Most car accidents result in some property damage to the vehicles involved in the accident. Not all accidents result in injuries to the occupants of the cars, but other accidents result in both serious damage to the vehicles and serious injuries to the driver and passengers of the cars. So how do you resolve property damage that is partial or the total destruction (total loss) of the car?
There Are Three Possible Ways to Resolve Property Loss Under California Law
- The damage to the car can be repaired and returned to its original condition (or at least as near as possible). The insurance company or the negligent party (if not insured) is to pay for the cost of the repairs.
- If the damage to the car is so substantial that the cost to repair the vehicle exceeds the value of the vehicle then you are to be paid the “fair market value” for the damaged vehicle. In many instances, even if the cost of repair is close to the value of the vehicle, the insurance company may still “total” the vehicle just to avoid the possibility of additional unknown costs coming into play as the repairs are made.
- The third way is that you just get paid the cost of the repairs and you can decide to have the car repaired or just pocket the money.
Even though it does not seem fair, it is the responsibility of the person with the damaged car to prove the reduction in the automobile’s value (2 above) or the reasonable cost of repairing it (1 above), whichever is less. Ultimately, you are entitled to the lesser of the two amounts. To determine the reduction in value of the car, you must determine the fair market value of the car before the harm occurred and then subtract the fair market value of the auto immediately after the damaged occurred. For example, if the value of the car was $15,000.00 prior to the accident, but the salvage value of the vehicle after the accident is only $1,000.00, then the reduction in value is $14,000.00. If you give the damaged car to the insurance company, then you will receive $15,000.00.
“Fair market value” is defined as the highest price that a willing buyer would have paid to a willing seller, assuming:
1. That there is no pressure on either one to buy or sell; and
2. That the buyer and seller are fully informed of the condition and quality of the automobile.
Finally, “It is well established that under [Civil Code] section 3333, the measure of damages for the loss or destruction of personal property is generally determined by the value of the property at the time of such loss or destruction.” Pelletier v. Eisenberg (1986) 177 Cal.App.3d 558, 567.
An Attorney Can Make Sure You're Treated Fairly by the Insurance Company
So property damage is often resolved with a mathematical calculation with the help of a good auto body repair shop. If the cost does not exceed the value of the vehicle, and the car can be repaired, choose a repair shop of your choice and have your car repaired and require the insurance company to pay for the cost. If the vehicle is a total loss, then determine the “fair market value” of the car at the time of the accident. Settle only for that which is fair and reasonable to you.
Most property damage claims can be resolved without an attorney. However, if you do not feel you are being treated right or were injured in the accident, consult an attorney and get the right advice and representation to resolve your damages claim.
Attorney David H. Ricks and the Inland Empire Law Group is an excellent personal injury and liability lawyer and law firm in Rancho Cucamonga and is handling cases throughout the Inland Empire. Please call our firm to discuss your legal rights and how we can really make a difference for you at 909-481-0100 or 1-888-MY-IELAW.