Over the last few years, automobile leasing has become an attractive and popular alternative to purchasing a new car. If you’re involved in a traffic collision in Florida while you’re driving a leased automobile, truck, or SUV, you’ll need to take a number of important steps right away. If you’re injured in South Florida traffic because another driver was negligent, those steps should include a consultation with an experienced West Palm Beach personal injury attorney.

Of course, in any traffic accident, your first concern must be your own health and safety and the health and safety of your passengers and anyone else who’s involved. Get medical help right away for anyone who is injured, but even if you don’t think you’ve been hurt, be examined by a doctor or by another qualified healthcare professional as soon as possible. Undetected and undiagnosed latent injuries can take weeks – and sometimes even longer – to become serious medical situations.

Call the police, make sure that they write an accident report, and make sure that you can obtain a copy. If there’s any dispute regarding liability, the police report will become key evidence. You’ll also need to obtain as much information as possible from the other driver: a name, a street address, telephone number, license plate number, the name of that driver’s auto insurance company, and the policy number. If the other driver too intoxicated, injured, or antagonistic to be helpful, ask the police to intercede on your behalf for the information you need.

WHY ARE PHOTOGRAPHS AND EYEWITNESSES IMPORTANT?

If you are able, take as many photographs as you can. Get pictures of the general accident scene, the damages to the vehicles, your own visible injuries, and the license plates of the other vehicle or vehicles. If you are incapacitated, have someone take the photos for you. You can’t take too many.

If there were eyewitnesses to the accident, try to get their names and a way to contact them as well. In most cases, a personal injury claim supported by photographs and eyewitness accounts is almost certain to be successful.

If you are driving a leased vehicle, you’ll need to notify the dealership or leasing agency as quickly as possible, and you’ll also need to inform the auto insurance company. The insurance company will arrange for an adjuster to appraise the vehicle and estimate the cost of repairs, or alternately, the insurance company may ask you to have the vehicle appraised at a particular garage or body shop.

When you lease a vehicle, you should know that some lease agreements spell out very precise terms regarding repairs to the vehicle. Some lease agreements stipulate that repairs cannot be made with after-market parts but only with original parts produced by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

If you’re leasing a vehicle, make certain that you understand the terms and conditions of the lease agreement, and if you’re in an accident involving that vehicle, you’ll want to review the agreement right away.

IF YOU ARE INJURED IN A COLLISION, WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

If you are injured by another driver in South Florida and that driver was negligent – or you believe that driver was negligent – it’s best to speak first with an experienced West Palm Beach personal injury attorney. When your health and your future are the concerns, you must have an experienced and knowledgeable personal injury lawyer advising you, protecting your rights, and advocating on your behalf.

If you weren’t injured but your leased vehicle was damaged, pursuing a damage claim involves taking the same steps you would take as the vehicle’s owner. Contact the other driver’s auto insurance company, tell them that you are making a damage claim, and provide the information the company requests. If the company approves your claim, and you feel that the amount they offer you is fair and just, the entire matter can be resolved quickly.

However, if the other driver’s insurance company rejects your claim, you’ll have to weigh your options. You can bring a property damage lawsuit against the other driver, but such a lawsuit could take months or longer to resolve in Florida, there are no guarantees, and what you obtain in the end may not be worth the time or effort of a lawsuit.

Personal injury attorneys almost never handle strict property damage cases, although if you are injured and you file a personal injury lawsuit, a personal injury attorney in some cases will include the property damage side of the case as part of the overall claim. The details will dictate how each case is handled.

WHAT DO MOST VEHICLE LEASES REQUIRE?

If you are in an accident while driving a leased vehicle, and if the other driver’s insurance company rejects your property damage claim, another alternative to consider is having your auto repairs paid through your own policy’s collision coverage. While the particulars vary among leasing companies, a typical lease agreement stipulates that you must have both liability and collision coverage. Collision coverage is required to ensure that proper repairs are made to a leased vehicle after a collision.

The law in Florida regarding traffic collisions is “pure” comparative negligence. How does that work? Let’s say that you are speeding, but not egregiously – five or seven miles per hour over the speed limit – and a drunk driver crashes into you while exceeding the speed limit by thirty-five miles per hour. If your full damages from the collision total $100,000, but you are deemed to have ten percent of the responsibility for the accident – because you were speeding –your recovery will be limited to $90,000.

If a leased vehicle is determined to be a “total loss,” as the result of an accident, you’ll be paid the vehicle’s “actual cash value” – generally meaning its NADA or Kelly Blue Book value immediately prior to the accident – but for many who lease, the actual cash value amount in such circumstances may not cover what’s owed on the lease.

If you lease a vehicle in Florida, consider purchasing a “gap” policy, which will cover the difference or the gap between what you are paid for a total loss and what you owe for the lease. Some leasing companies require gap insurance.

For many drivers in Florida, leasing a vehicle is a smart option. Just try to keep leasing a vehicle simple and understandable. Read the lease agreement in its entirety, be sure that you understand your end of the agreement and all of your obligations, including your insurance obligations, and ask as many questions as you need to ask to be comfortable and confident regarding the lease agreement.