Appellate Division Rules that Claims for Damaged Motor Vehicles May be Sustained

Mar 5, 2019

In an opinion addressing numerous claims of the diminished value of motor vehicles, the Appellate Division held that motor vehicle owners may recover for an additional reduction in value when a vehicle has become less desirable for resale because of the stigma of having once been damaged.  Financial Services Vehicle Trust v. Panter, - N.J. Super. – (App. Div. 2019).

The case involved four small claims suits wherein plaintiff sought damages to address the alleged diminished value of motor vehicles they claimed to own and were damaged in accidents.  Defendants agreed that they had caused physical damage to plaintiff’s vehicles but argued that the claim that each vehicle was devalued by the stigma of having been in an accident was too speculative to be cognizable.  The Appellate Division rejected the defendants’ argument.

The court recognized that property owners often seek compensation by presenting only evidence about the costs of repair of damaged items.  However, the court noted that the law has never limited compensation to that element alone and noted that courts have long recognized that a vehicle owner is entitled to recover the difference between the vehicle’s value before the harm and its value after the harm. 

The court did note that a plaintiff is obligated to prove ownership of the vehicle in question and that may be done through a Certificate of Title, leasing documents or a properly authenticated police report.

The Appellate Division then upheld the opinions of plaintiff’s experts about the diminution of value.  In each case, the expert testified about the particular vehicle in question and considered the make, model, age and accident history and opined about its value with and without the stigma imposed by its accident history.  The court held that defendants had failed to establish that plaintiff’s experts offered net opinions.