What damages can I be awarded if I am in accident?
Many folks wonder what they can obtain as far as compensation when they are in an accident. As usual when it comes to the law, it depends on the specific of the accident.
For example, if you are in an auto collision, you can generally recover damages for the property damage you incur, the medical bills you incur to treat your injuries, the wages or income you lost due to your injuries and compensation for your pain and suffering and mental anguish due to your injuries.
Today I will discuss the property damage aspect of your claim.
If you are in an auto collision and your vehicle is damaged due the fault of a third person, you are entitled under the law to recover either the repair cost or the market value of the vehicle. The insurer for the at-fault driver gets to decide which one. Generally, if the cost to repair and provide you a replacement vehicle during the reasonable time to repair the damaged vehicle is less than the market value of the damaged vehicle, the insurer will pay for the repairs to the vehicle. All the insurer owes is the cost to repair the vehicle to the condition it was in immediately prior to the collision. So, if there are pre-existing dents or rust, the insurer does not have to pay to repair those areas.
If the insurer decides to "total" the vehicle, the insurer owes the market value of the vehicle. Many times, with low down payments and long term payment schedules, I see vehicle owners who owe more money to the lien holder than the market value of the vehicle. (This is called "being upside down.") Even though the collision was not your fault, the law requires that only the market value be paid and not the amount owing to the lien holder. Finding this out can be quite traumatic on the innocent driver.
There are ways to try to protect yourself from being "upside down." You can make a larger down payment on the vehicle when you purchase it. You can purchase a used car - generally new cars sell at a premium and, when you drive the vehicle off the lot, you lose a substantial amount of market value. Or, you can purchase "gap" insurance when you obtain a loan to pay for the vehicle. "Gap" insurance is a relatively new loan product, and it does exactly what it says - it fills in any "gap" between the market price of the vehicle and amount owed to the lien holder. Someone buying an expensive new vehicle with a small down payment and a long payment schedule, should purchase "gap" insurance - you will be glad if you are in a collision.
If the vehicle is repairable, then by law you are entitled to a replacement vehicle during the reasonable time to repair the vehicle. If the car is "totaled" the law does not provide for a replacement vehicle until you can purchase another vehicle. This seems wrong, but, again, it is the law as determined by the Courts over the last 100 years.
So, in summary, property damage generally is relatively "cut and dried." The vehicle is either totaled or repairable. If totaled you get the actual market value for the vehicle. If the vehicle is repairable, you get the damage done in this specific collision repaired and a replacement vehicle during the reasonable time it takes to repair the vehicle.
Next time we will talk elements of damages for bodily injury claims.