Sat | Sep 22, 2018

Cedric Stephens | In chain reaction accidents, who’s at fault?

Published:Sunday | June 25, 2017 | 12:44 AM

QUESTION: On June 9 while travelling in a line of traffic on Mandela Highway, the vehicles ahead came to a stop. I did the same. Shortly afterwards I felt an impact to the rear. Another car ran into the back of the car behind mine and pushed it into mine. I learnt afterwards that I am expected to pay an ‘excess’. I was angry and so I started doing some research. My questions are: 1) What is an excess and how does it operate? 2) The driver who hit my car did not cause the accident. If the person who was at fault cannot fix both vehicles, should the person who hit me pay to repair my vehicle? 3) The driver that was immediately behind me and I share the same broker. Will this affect the outcome of my claim? 4) I can’t seem to find any information on the internet that offers specific assistance to local drivers. Can you help? 5) Are drivers obliged to report all accidents to insurers, even minor fender-benders? 6) Can my insurers penalise me for not reporting minor accidents where the cost of the repairs is less than the excess? —                                                                                           

INSURANCE HELPLINE: This column’s existence depends on emails like yours.  Your expression of confidence is appreciated — ‘bigly’.  Your broker and insurer are failing on the service experience front. My conclusion is founded on things you said and that were left unsaid. Your so-called insurance service providers’ websites, social media platforms, capacity to keep in touch 24/7, 365 days per year via your smartphone, proved useless after your three-car collision.

Information shared with this column over the last decade by consumers like yourself, suggest that very few service improvements have occurred in the insurance sector.

Contrast this with the massive service and other improvements that have taken place in Jamaica Public Service Company. That entity’s public image, which in the past was much lower than that of insurers, is moving steadily in a positive direction. Sad, in the context of insurance service — to use a real word associated with the current US President in his tweets.


Asking the right question is the sure way to find the right answer. This applies in all aspects of life as well as in sourcing information on the Internet. Before replying to your questions, I will answer one that you didn’t ask: Who is at fault in ‘chain reaction’ car accidents? says “Chain reaction accidents occur when three or more vehicles hit one another in a series of rear-end accidents that are caused primarily by the force of the first collision”.

That source is not local. However, based on my information on how insurers here operate, driving practices and my knowledge about the Jamaican legal system, I am very sure that what follows is relevant to your situation.

If an “insurance claim or lawsuit is filed against another motorist after a chain-reaction accident, liability will need to be proved under a legal theory called ‘negligence’.  Figuring out which driver was negligent is mostly a matter of determining which driver’s carelessness caused the accident, or, if more than one driver was negligent, determining each driver’s share of liability. 

“One rule of the road that comes into play in most chain reaction accidents is that drivers must leave a safe following distance between their vehicle and the vehicle in front of them, so that they can stop in time to avoid any road hazards or unexpected situations, such as the lead car slamming on its brakes. A driver who fails to maintain a safe following distance and then rear-ends the lead car will almost always be considered negligent.”


The words excess and deductible mean the same thing. According to, both “terms represent the amount an insured driver must pay towards a claim before the insurance company kicks in (and pays) the rest”.

The second part of the definition is important. It reads: “In British English, the excess is the amount in excess of what the insurance company has (contractually) agreed to pay. In American English, deductible is meant to convey that the amount is deducted from the full amount of the claim agreed upon by the insurer.”

Deductibles or excesses are found in comprehensive motor policies. They apply when the insured vehicle is damaged in an accident. The deductible in local contracts starts at 5 per cent of the vehicle’s estimate of value. The contract only kicks in when the damage to the vehicle exceeds five per cent. In a case like yours where the cost of fixing your vehicle was less than the excess and the damage was caused by the carelessness of another party, or parties, that person and/or his insurer, or parties, would be responsible for the payment of your excess.

Drivers and policyholders are duty bound to report all accidents to insurers. The claims condition in one policy reads: “After any loss, damage or accident, you shall give us full details in writing within 30 days”.

Failure to report minor accidents, defined as those where the cost of repairs is below the deductible, is in breach of that condition.


- Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to: