When property is damaged through the fault of another, the law’s primary objective is to restore the property as nearly as possible to the state it was in before it was damaged. In Louisiana, it is well settled that the measure of the damage to property is the cost of restoring the property to its former condition. Thus, the courts historically have looked to the cost of restoration to determine the proper measure of damages. Rogers v. Commercial Union Ins. Co., 796 So.2d 862 (La. App. 3d Cir. 2001). This approach is particularly common with auto accidents, including the one that led to the case of Armstrong v. Safeway Insurance Company, No. 10-183 (La. App. 3d Cir. 2010).
On April 12, 2008, Richard Armstrong, an antique automobile restorer, was driving a 1982 Corvette in Pineville. The car, which to that point had never been in an accident and was in “mint” condition, was struck by a vehicle driven by Darrell Frost. Armstrong suffered minor injuries as a result of the accident, and the Corvette sustained damage to the front end. Armstrong and Frost’s insurance carrier, Safeway, settled Armstrong’s personal injury claims after Frost admitted fault for the incident. The parties were unable to reach a settlement over Armstrong’s property damage claims, however, and so Armstrong filed suit. At trial, Armstrong explained that the repairs to the Corvette totaled $7,007. This was in part due to the fact that Armstrong insisted upon complete replacement of several body parts due to the difficulty in making undetectable repairs to fiberglass. Armstrong asserted that the Corvette was a “well-maintained classic,” the value of which would have been negatively affected by any body imperfections. Safeway, who had offered Armstrong $3,503 for the repairs based on the opinion of its appraiser, argued that it was unreasonable for Armstrong to expect replacement parts when less costly repairs were possible. The trial judge disagreed with Safeway and awarded Armstrong $7,007 in property damages.
Safeway appealed. The Third Circuit noted that the parties’ repair experts at trial both agreed that Armstrong’s vehicle could have been repaired in several different ways and that Armstrong was reasonable in being concerned about the way that his vehicle was going to be repaired. The court concluded that “[b]ecause the trial court was presented with two permissible views of the evidence, its choice between them cannot be manifestly erroneous or clearly wrong.” Furthermore, Armstrong “carried his burden” of proving the amount he paid to restore the car to its pre-accident condition. The court commented, “Safeway simply argued that Armstrong’s vehicle could have been repaired in the manner recommended by its appraiser; they did not argue that any of the costs incurred by Armstrong to have his vehicle repaired in the manner that he chose were otherwise unreasonable.” Accordingly, the court found that the trial judge did not err in awarding Armstrong the full amount of his proven property damages, and affirmed the decision.
This case offers a reminder to car wreck victims that they are entitled to have their cars repaired to pre-accident condition and that they do not have to accept an insurance company’s first settlement offer based simply on what the insurance company asserts is sufficient. Although Armstrong’s situation was somewhat unique in that he was driving an antique Corvette, the concept that the victim should be made whole applies in every car wreck case.
If you have been in a car accident, call the Berniard Law Firm today toll-free at 1-866-574-8005 and speak with an attorney who can stand up to the insurance company and help you obtain a fair settlement.