Are Rental or Leasing Companies Liable for Motor Vehicle Accidents Caused By Their Customers?

In some instances, a personal injury occurs as a result of an auto accident involving a rental truck or other leased vehicle. When this occurs, the injured party is left wondering who is going to be responsible for their personal injury and property damages, including the rental or leasing company themselves.

A recent appellate decision from Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals addressed this issue. Specifically, whether a rental or leasing company is vicariously liable for motor vehicle accidents caused by their customers. See Patterson v. Firstlease, Inc., So.3d, 37 FLW D2452c (Fla.2d DCA 10-29-2012).

In most cases, defendants will argue that Florida statutes are preempted by the Graves Amendment. The Graves Amendment is a Federal Law which precludes holding rental or leasing companies vicariously liable for motor vehicle accidents caused by their customers. 49 U.S.C. 30106. However, the Florida Second District Court of Appeal held that immunity under the Graves Amendment does not extend to the vehicle’s insurer.

Thus, when an accident involves a rental or leased vehicle it is important to analyze all potential defendants and address possible insurance coverage for the injured party. In the case referenced above, although the rental or leasing company may have immunity from the accident, the insurance company that provided coverage may still have an obligation to the Plaintiff. Florida law provides that the lessor’s liability insurance coverage on a leased vehicle is primary when there all multiple defendants. It is important to do your due diligence to ensure that all possible coverage is identified.

In the event you have a question regarding insurance coverage or if you have been in an automobile accident we welcome you to call Robert Sparks Attorneys for a free case evaluation.