Reversal: Driver at fault in wreck liable for repaired truck’s diminished value

A woman whose vehicle rear-ended a pickup truck in a Bloomington wreck is liable for the truck’s diminished value after it was repaired, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday in a reversal.

Lindsay Forster admitted she was at fault in the June 2017 crash in which she rear-ended a Chevy Silverado pickup driven by Lance Ingersoll, who leased the truck from Hubler Chevrolet. Afterward, GM Financial assigned to Shield Global Partners-G1 LLC any claims for the truck’s diminished market value as a result of the crash.

Before the wreck, the truck had a market value of $36,550. After repairs costing more than $6,800, appraisers involved in the litigation claimed the truck had a diminished market value of between about $4,000 to $7,000. Shield sued to recover diminished market value damages from Forster, but the Monroe Circuit Court ruled in her favor, holding among other things that “Indiana law does not recognize per se ‘stigma of defect’ damages to personal property which is not permanently damaged.”

“We believe this misreads (Wiese-GMC, Inc. v. Wells, 626 N.E.2d 595, 599 (Ind. Ct. App. 1993)),” Judge Paul Mathias wrote for the panel in Shield Global Partners-G1, LLC v. Lindsay Forster, 19A-CC-1100. The panel read Wells to mean that even if property is restored to its previous condition, damages still may be recovered “if there is a resulting loss of fair market value … .”

“Our reading of Wells comports with the economic reality that property that has been damaged and repaired often has a lesser fair market value than property that was never damaged in the first place. This is especially true in the case of automobiles, where numerous online services, including Carfax, allow anyone to easily check to see if an automobile has been involved in an accident,” Mathias wrote. “Automobiles that have been involved in accidents, even if they have been successfully and fully repaired, usually have a diminished value. Indeed, all other things being equal, few if any would prefer a car that has been in an accident, even if fully repaired, to one that has never been in an accident, unless the repaired car was available at a lower price.”

Further, the panel found in this case, Monroe Circuit Judge Holly Harvey clearly erred in finding that one of the appraisers who presented evidence had not reviewed photos of the vehicle, and she ignored evidence of diminished value in the trial court’s findings of fact.

“Even if the trial court was not persuaded by (Shield appraiser Stuart) Raskin’s testimony regarding the diminished value of the Truck, its conclusion that there was no evidence regarding the diminished value of the Truck is contrary to its own finding that Shield’s in-house appraisal concluded that the Truck had a diminished value of $4,020.50. We therefore conclude that the trial court’s factual findings regarding Raskin’s appraisal are not supported by the evidence. And the trial court’s conclusion that Shield presented no evidence to support its claim of diminished value is unsupported by the trial court’s factual findings.

“… The trial court erred by concluding that Shield could not recover damages for diminished value because the Truck had been successfully repaired. It then compounded this error by ignoring the uncontroverted evidence that the Truck had a diminished value as a result of being involved in an accident and being repaired. We therefore reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion,” the panel concluded.

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