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Property Damage After Personal Injury Claim is Settled in Texas

car crashIn a recent Texas car accident case, the plaintiff appealed a summary judgment ruling that she take nothing in her claim. The case arose several years ago when the defendant rear-ended the plaintiff’s car on the MoPac expressway. In a week, she sued the defendant, claiming negligence and negligence per se based on his drunk driving.

When the lawsuit started, she was asking for personal injury damages. However, the defendant’s auto insurance carrier settled those claims. The property damage claims didn’t settle, and she amended her pleadings to get recovery of those damages. She’d bought her car about three weeks before the accident. It was purchased through an installment sales contract. The plaintiff made a down payment and agreed to satisfy the remaining balance through monthly payments.

The contract granted a security interest in the car to secure the plaintiff’s debt. The car was a total loss after the accident. The damages were the fair market value of the car immediately before the injury at the place where the injury happened. This is subject to a credit or offset in the amount of the car’s salvage value if the owner keeps the car.

In her lawsuit, the plaintiff asked for $7,000, which was how much she’d paid for the car as its market value before the collision. She also asked for $1,700 in towing and storage and the cost to rent a replacement car. In 2015, the court found that the case wasn’t being prosecuted and put it on a dismissal docket. Meanwhile, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in a different matter that loss-of-use damages could be recovered if personal property is completely destroyed.

The defendant filed for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff was not entitled to recover her property damages. He submitted evidence from his insurer’s claims adjustment report, which concluded the cash value of the plaintiff’s car was $5,750. The insurer had sent a letter to the plaintiff’s attorney, arguing that the car was a total loss. It offered to settle the property damage claim for $6,194.68 as compensation for the value of her car. The defendant also submitted various evidence to show that he had a right to an offset for the salvage value of the car and that his insurer had made payment with a notation for “loss of use payment under property damage liability coverage.” This check had been signed and deposited.

The plaintiff presented her opinion evidence under the property owner rule that her car’s market value before the accident was $7,500. She’d gotten this figure by consulting online ads. The trial court granted the defendant’s summary judgment motion. The plaintiff appealed.

The plaintiff argued on appeal that it was an error to grant summary judgment on these motions based on prior payments by the defendant’s insurer. One of her arguments was that she’d raised a genuine factual issue about the fair market value of her car by providing an opinion the value was $7,500. She argued that under the property owner rule, a layperson is presumed to be qualified to testify about the market value of his own property.

The appellate court explained that a lay property owner’s qualification to provide testimony didn’t automatically mean their testimony would be considered competent evidence of market value. They would have to provide an underlying factual basis for their opinion. The underlying facts were not there to support her claim. She also couldn’t show she was deprived of vehicle use. For these and other reasons, the summary judgment was affirmed.

If you are injured by someone else in a car accident, the experienced San Antonio attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to represent you and develop a sound strategy for handling your case. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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