Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. // Car Crash Law — Compensation for Diminution of Vehicle Value

crushed vehicleThe main object of a vehicle (e.g., car, truck, motorcycle, van) crash claim or lawsuit is to obtain full compensation for the person harmed by the negligence of another. The standard damage elements are pain & suffering, loss of income (past and future), past and future medical expenses, and vehicle damage repair or replacement.

A crash damaged vehicle, even if repaired, has a diminished resale value. The diminished value is a measure of damages that can, under the right circumstances, be claimed as compensation from the at-fault party. (Typically, this means the at-fault party’s insurance company. Whether such a claim can be made against one’s own insurance policy in a first-party claim is a matter of contract law. Since Florida law does not require insurers to provide this coverage to their own insureds, whether or not it is available depends on the terms of the insurance contract. The coverage is usually not provided.)

The basic law on the subject is contained in Airtech Service, Inc. v. MacDonald Construction Co., 150 So.2d 465, 466 (Fla.3d DCA 1963):

“where a person is entitled to a judgment for harm to chattels not amounting to a total destruction in value, the damages include compensation for (a) the difference between the value of the chattel before the harm and the value after the harm, or, at the plaintiff’s election, the reasonable cost of repair or restoration where feasible, with due allowance for any difference between the original value and the value after repairs, and (b) the loss of use.”

CAVEAT: Airtech involved an airplane rather than a car or truck, but the concept is the same.

Diminished value claims are paid under the tortfeasor’s Property Damage – Liability coverage. PD – Liability is mandatory in Florida, with a minimum coverage requirement of a $10,000. Since higher limits cost more, most people limit their coverage to the $10,000. (Some motorists maintain higher limits.) The coverage is responsible for repairs, replacement, and diminished value, and the carrier is not required to pay more, in total, than the policy limit. When badly damaged valuable cars are repaired, the cost can easily meet or exceed the policy limit, leaving nothing to pay for the diminished value. This is a limiting factor in diminished value claims against insurance coverage. (A diminished value claim is not limited to insurance coverage. Technically, the at-fault party is responsible for the damage from personal assets. This is rarely a practical solution.)

Other limiting factors:

  • Older vehicle
  • High mileage
  • Other crash history
  • Comparative fault. In Florida, a person is only responsible in damages to the extent of his or her percentage of fault. For example, a person 70% at fault is only responsible for $3,500 on a property damage or diminished value claim totaling $5,000.

The Internet is an invaluable resource for establishing market value. We are usually able to get needed information free of charge. Newspaper classified ads can also be helpful. For total loss claims, factors such as mileage, condition, recent purchases (e.g., new tires), model, extras, and maintenance records make a difference. Insurance companies like to start with lowball offers. Fight back. Show them your ammo. We’ve had good success resolving these disputes without going to war.

We do not accept third-party property damage claims without having the personal injury case. (We will consider accepting first-party cases without personal injuries. These cases include losses due to fire and theft, not just a crash.)

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Contact us toll free at 866-785-GALE or by email to learn your legal rights.

Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.

While prompt resolution of your legal matter is our goal, our approach is fundamentally different. Our clients are “people” and not “cases” or “files.” We take the time to build a relationship with our clients, realizing that only through meaningful interaction can we best serve their needs. In this manner, we have been able to best help those requiring legal representation.