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5-car pileup. Who pays?

5-car pileup on the 10 Freeway. The insurance company for the driver who caused the crash won’t fix my car. What can I do?

- J.P, California


In a multi-car pileup accident, it may not be immediately clear if one driver was 100% at fault for the accident, or if more than one driver bears responsibility. No insurance company will step up and agree to pay for all of the damage caused until the insurance company gets the police report (if one was taken) and until the insurance company takes statements from the involved parties. If the report was taken by the Los Angeles Police Department, it may not be ready for three to four months after the accident. During the time that "liability is pending," i.e., the insurance companies are still investigating who was at fault, you can either go through your own auto insurance on your property damage claim, or you have to wait until the insurance companies have completed their liability investigation and one or more insurance companies accept fault.

If you have no collision coverage under your auto insurance policy, you have no choice but to wait. If your car is sitting at an impound yard, incurring daily storage fees, you can either remove the car at your own expense and have it towed somewhere until the insurance companies conclude their liability investigation, or you can leave it at the impound yard. Eventually, if you do not remove the car from impound, the impound yard will sell the car for parts and apply the proceeds of the sale to pay off the impound fees.

Multi-car pileups can mean not only a delay in determining fault, but also can result in a lack of sufficient insurance coverage to pay for all injury and property damage claims. If one driver bears 100% fault, their policy limits may not be enough if there are multiple injury and property damage claims. Should that be the case, an accident victim can make an underinsured motorist claim under his or her own auto insurance policy as to his or her injury claim, provided the victim has uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage in an amount greater than the at-fault driver's policy limit. Learn more about uninsured/underinsured motorist claims here.

If you have been involved in a multi-vehicle pileup, the issues can be tricky. It's best to seek the advice of a car accident lawyer. Even if you decide not to hire a lawyer, the attorney can give you advice on what to expect and on how you should proceed, so that you don't do something or fail to do something that harms your claim.

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