Diminution Vehicle Value After Accident

By: James W. Dodson

Has your vehicle lost value after an auto accident? How many of us would agree to pay the full fair market value for a car that we knew had received substantial property damage in an accident? One of the basic questions any buyer asks before purchasing a car is whether it's been damaged in an accident. Professional auto buyers are trained for the signs indicating body repair damage on a car. The average person knows they should always request a Carfax report on a vehicle before purchasing it. This is because we all recognize that vehicles lose their value after the vehicle sustains substantial damage in an accident. Vehicles simply are not worth as much as a vehicle that has never been damaged.

Florida recognizes the existence of a tort claim for diminished value of a vehicle against the tortfeaser (the party causing the accident). These claims do not exist in first-party cases, those in which your own insurance company has paid for the repairs under their contract of insurance with you. First-party claims are governed by the law of contracts and not by the law of tort actions.

The claim for diminished value of your vehicle is just one of the claims for damages which may be pursued under Florida's tort laws, in addition to the more well known claims for bodily injury. Diminished value claims may also be called lost value, reduced value, or reduction in the value claims. It could be argued diminished value claims should apply to any vehicle including trucks, motorcycles, autos or automobiles, boats, trailers, and even wheelchairs.

The measure of damages has been addressed in at least two cases. Florida's Third District Court of Appeals in the case of McHale v. Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. 409 So.2d 238 (1982) stated the proper measure of damages is the cost of repair, plus the reduction in the value of the vehicle. The burden of proving the reduction in the value of the vehicle is on the plaintiff bringing the claim.

Progressive Insurance Company, in Siegle v. Progressive Consumer's Insurance Company, 819 So.2d 732 (Fla. 2002), was sued by one of its own insureds for a diminished value of the vehicle which it had repaired for their insured. In Progressive's legal brief to the court, they argued that, while a diminished value claim would not exist in Florida against them by their own insured, third parties would be entitled to seek recovery on their claims for loss of value. Thus, while denying the existence of these claims in first party cases, Progressive acknowledged they do exist in tort for third-party claims.

We always recommend our clients obtain quality photographs of their vehicle showing the damage sustained, prior to repair. Once we obtain the repair records, an appropriate expert may be obtained to give an opinion on the loss of value of the vehicle after its repair. There is nothing in reported cases which requires that the vehicle must have been sold or traded in order to pursue this claim. The actual loss sustained, of courseComputer Technology Articles, must be proved and must be substantial enough to warrant the time and expense required to pursue these claims successfully.

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