Automobile Accident Property Damage Considerations

The measure of damage to an automobile is the difference in value before and after the collision. If the vehicle is repaired, damages are equal to the cost of repair, plus diminution in value resulting from the damage, plus hire for a comparable vehicle for the reasonable repair time, plus interest--provided that amount does not exceed the market value of the vehicle.  The owner of the vehicle may testify at trial as to the decrease in value based on permissible hearsay provided the proper foundation is established. Apostle v. Prince, 158 Ga.App. 56 (1981).

Punitive damages and bad faith penalties under Georgia law, OCGA S 33-34-6, may be awarded for refusal to pay diminution in value.  Hartford Fire Ins. Co. v. Rowland, 181 Ga.App. 213 (1986); Brown Transport Corp. v. Gunnell, 167 Ga.App. 833 (1983); Perma Ad Ideas v. Mayville, 158 Ga.App. 707 (1981).

The measure of damages would be the difference between the fair market value of the damaged property immediately before and immediately after the damage complained of. Douglas v. Prescott, 31 Ga.App. 684, 121 S.E. 708 (1924); Mitchell v. Mullen, 45 Ga.App. 282(5), 164 S.E. 221 (1931); Rutledge v. Glass, 125 Ga.App. 549, 188 S.E.2d 261 (1972).

Sample Property Damage Jury Charges

(1) Where the owner of the damaged personal property makes proper and necessary repairs, she may establish her loss by showing the reasonable value of labor and material used for the repairs, and the amount of any permanent impairment in the value of the property after it was repaired--provided, the aggregate of these amounts, together with hire on the property while incapable of being used, does not exceed the value of the property before the accident, with interest thereon.  The value may be shown by competent testimony as to the nature of the injuries sustained and the material and labor supplied.  Testimony as to the actual cost is admissible--such costs being a circumstance which may be considered by you in determining such value, without being absolutely bound by the opinion of the witnesses. Padgett v. Williams, 82 Ga.App. 509, 61 S.E.2d 676 (1950); Lemon v. Perry, 33 Ga.App. 248, 125 S.E. 907 (1924); Tapes & Things, Inc. v. Evans, 133 Ga.App. 705, 212 S.E.2d 31 (1974). Southern Ry. Co. v. Grogan, 113 Ga.App. 451, 148 S.E.2d 439, 443 (1966), the Court of Appeals approved this charge:

(2) "Depreciation, directly flowing from damage to an automobile caused by negligence, is a proper item of damage.  If the claimant is entitled to recover from the defendant because of damage to his automobile and because of such damage the automobile was depreciated in market value, then you would be authorized to consider the amount of such depreciation, if any, in arriving at your verdict.  This is true even though such damage has been repaired, provided there is residual depreciation because of the damage or repairs."  "The measure of damages in an action to recover for injuries in an action to recover for injuries to an automobile from a collision is the difference between the value of the automobile before and after the collision, but where the owner has undertaken to make proper and necessary repairs he may establish his loss in respect to the collision by showing the reasonable value of labor and material used for the repairs, and the value of any permanent impairment after the car was repaired, provided the aggregate of these amounts, together with hire on the machine while incapable of being used, does not exceed the value of the automobile before injury with interest thereon."  Padgett v. Williams, 82 Ga.App. 509(1), 61 S.E.2d 676 (1950).  There was evidence in the present case of residual depreciation because of the permanent impairment of the automobile after the repairs were made and, since the total verdict for the plaintiff did not exceed the undisputed value of the automobile before the injury thereto, the above charge was not error.

Evidence of the cost of a substitute vehicle for a damaged vehicle would authorize the jury to find that the loss of hire of the damaged vehicle was the same as the rental of the substitute vehicle.

Moffett v. McCurry, 84 Ga.App. 853, 67 S.E.2d 807, 816 (1951), "The jury was authorized to find for the plaintiff, in addition to the difference in the market difference in the market value of the vehicle before the injury and afterwards, the value of the lost use of the vehicle while it was being repaired, provided that the sum of both elements did not exceed the value of the automobile before the injury with interest thereon.  [Citation omitted.]  . . . .  The amount expended for a replacement vehicle to perform the services usually performed by the damaged vehicle may be taken into consideration by the jury in determining what damages the plaintiff is entitled to for 'hire while rendered incapable of use' or 'loss of use'. The evidence as to the amount expended by the plaintiff in hiring a car suitable to take the place of the damaged car, while it was being repaired, was sufficient to authorize the charge that the plaintiff could recover 'hire on the machine, when rendered incapable of being used."

Lamb v. Landers, 67 Ga.App. 588(4), 21 S.E.2d 321 (1942), "the jury might take into consideration the cost of repairing the automobile, and any loss of time that the plaintiff might have suffered by reason of the automobile being out of service during the time it was being repaired; that the plaintiff would have a right to recover the reasonable value of the use of the automobile for a reasonable length of time during which the automobile was being repaired. . . . Movants alleged that both elements were not recoverable.  There is no merit to this objection.  Under the law, both elements were recoverable provided, in the aggregate, the sum did not exceed the value of the automobile before the injury with interest thereon."  See also Telfair v. Webb, 119 Ga. 916(2), 47 S.E. 218; Southern Ry. Co. v. Stearns, 8 Ga.App. 111, 68 S.E. 623; Olliff v. Howard, 33 Ga.App. 778, 127 S.E. 821.

There must be evidence that the length of time during which the vehicle was being repaired was not unreasonable. Webb v. May, 91 Ga.App. 437, 85 S.E.2d 641, 643 (1955).

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