COA orders man to pay remaining balance on lease of totaled car

A divided panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed an order requiring a man to pay the remaining balance on the lease of a woman’s car after he totaled it in a collision for which he was found to be completely at fault.

In Jason Bokori v. Jasmina Martinoski, 45A03-1603-SC-519, Jasmina Martinoski’s leased 2013 Toyota Corolla was totaled in a collision with Jason Bokori. While Nationwide Mutual Insurance paid Toyota $17,530.44 to purchase the total vehicle, Martinoski sued Bokori and Progressive Insurance for the remaining $5,146.08 balance, plus late fee charges and court costs.

In her notice of claim, Martinoski alleged that Bokori was responsible for the accident, so he and Progressive owed her the remaining balance on the lease. On cross-examination of Martinoski, the court allowed Progressive’s attorney to tender a report, without a proponent for the document, showing that the market value of the car at the time of the accident was $17,312.

The small claims court entered judgment in favor of Progressive because there was no contractual relationship between the insurance company and Martinoski, but found Bokori to be completely responsible for the accident. The court then held that without a proponent for the report, it was not satisfied that it sufficiently established fair market value and ordered Bokori to pay Martinoski the balance of her lease, as well as late fees and court costs.

On appeal, Bokori argued that Martinoski’s claim rests on a “mistaken legal theory” and that her proper remedy had already been provided, so the trial court erred in finding otherwise. From his perspective, the fair market value was the amount Nationwide paid to Toyota.

But the trial court concluded that Martinoski’s testimony as to the recent purchase price of the vehicle and an acceleration statement from Toyota was more credible than the valuation report presented by Progressive.

“Bokori’s argument, cloaked as a legal question, actually challenges the trial court’s determination of weight and credibility: Bokori suggests as a legal conclusion that an insurance market value report, supported by no testimony to explain how it was generated or its assumptions, is determinative of value – even as Martinoski provided testimony concerning the underlying purchase transaction for the vehicle and supporting documentation from Toyota Financial,” Judge Mark Bailey wrote for the majority. “Such an argument does not rise to the level of a prima facie error required to obtain a reversal here, and its invitation to reweigh evidence is one we cannot take up.”

But in a dissenting opinion, Senior Judge Betty Barteau wrote that if the trial court believed there was insufficient evidence to establish the fair market value of the vehicle, then Martinoski was not entitled to damages because the burden was on her to establish the value.

“Under my reading of the evidence, it is clear that Martinoski sought to recover from Bokori the amount she owed Toyota Financial under the lease,” Barteau wrote. “Bokori did not cause her to incur that loss. Instead, he only deprived Toyota Financial of the value of the car itself, for which Toyota Financial was compensated.”

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