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Camaraza v. Bellavia Buick Corp.

Decided: March 24, 1987.


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County.

Michels, Skillman and Landau. The opinion of the court was delivered by Skillman, J.A.D.


The issue presented by this appeal is whether damages for loss of use of an automobile resulting from commission of a tort are limited to actual expenditures for substitute transportation. We hold that loss of use damages are not thus limited and therefore reverse the contrary determination of the trial court.

Plaintiff's automobile was stolen while in the custody of defendant for servicing. The thief was involved in an accident in which plaintiff's automobile was seriously damaged. The automobile allegedly could not be repaired for five months, during which time plaintiff was deprived of its use.

Plaintiff filed suit, alleging that defendant had been negligent in maintaining custody of his automobile. Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment was granted. However, the trial court limited his damages to $250, which was the deductible on the collision coverage of his insurance policy.*fn1 Plaintiff's claim for additional damages for loss of use of his automobile while it was being repaired was rejected. The trial court held that plaintiff's damages would include any sums actually expended for substitute transportation, but not "the valuation of a hypothetical rental vehicle which plaintiff, in fact, chose not to rent." Since plaintiff was unable to present any evidence of actual expenditures for substitute transportation,

the trial court declined to award any damages for loss of use of his automobile.

It is axiomatic that "[t]he normal measure of damages for the commission of a tort is all damages proximately caused by the injury." Schroeder v. Perkel, 87 N.J. 53, 66 (1981). Consequently, damages are not limited to pecuniary losses which are capable of precise measurement. Rather, a jury or other trier of fact is frequently asked to place a monetary value on non-monetary consequences of a tort, such as a victim's disability, pain and suffering, see Baxter v. Fairmont Food Co., 74 N.J. 588 (1977), personal humiliation, see Zahorian v. Russell Fitt Real Estate Agency, 62 N.J. 399 (1973), or emotional anguish, see Portee v. Jaffee, 84 N.J. 88 (1980).

Although damages resulting from property loss are generally pecuniary in nature, the same basic principles of damages resulting from the commission of a tort apply to both personal injuries and property losses. Thus, "[i]n an action for injury to an automobile (or other personal property), the general rule is that the measure of damages . . . is the amount which will compensate for all detriment naturally and proximately caused." Hintz v. Roberts, 98 N.J.L. 768, 770 (E. & A. 1923); see also Lane v. Orl Delivery, Inc., 216 N.J. Super. 413, 419-420 (App.Div.1987).

Damages for tortious property damage to an automobile include costs of repair and the difference in value of the automobile before the accident and after the repairs are completed. Fanfarillo v. East End Motor Co., 172 N.J. Super. 309, 313 (App.Div.1980). Where a plaintiff is temporarily deprived of the use of an automobile, damages also may include the loss of use of the automobile during the time reasonably required to complete repairs. Jones v. Lahn, 1 N.J. 358, 362-363 (1949); Hintz v. Roberts, supra, 98 N.J.L. at 771; Graves v. Baltimore & N.Y. RR. Co., 76 N.J.L. 362, 364 (E. & A. 1908); State Farm Mutual Auto Ins. Co. v. Toro, 127 N.J. Super. 223, 227 (Law Division 1974); see also Bartlett v. Garrett, 130 N.J. Super. 193

(Cty.D.Ct.1974) (holding that where an automobile is totally destroyed, loss of use damages may be awarded for time period required to purchase a replacement vehicle). However, the prior decisions in this State have not specifically considered whether the rental of a substitute vehicle is a precondition to the award of loss of use damages for the time required to repair an automobile used only for personal purposes.*fn2

We conclude that under the general principles of damages previously summarized a plaintiff should not be barred from recovery for loss of use of an automobile simply because he has not rented a substitute vehicle. Although such a plaintiff does not incur pecuniary loss in the form of rental payments for a substitute vehicle, he may suffer substantial personal inconvenience due to the lack of an automobile. He may be forced to walk to work or to take inconvenient public transportation. He may be prevented from engaging in normal recreational pursuits or his enjoyment of those pursuits may be diminished. We conclude that such inconveniences caused by the wrongful conduct of a tortfeasor are compensable. We add that this conclusion is supported by the overwhelming weight of authority in other jurisdictions. See Ben Lomond, Inc. v. Campbell, 691 P. 2d 1042, 1045-1046 (Alaska Sup.Ct.1984); Stephens v. Foster, 46 Ariz. 391, 51 P. 2d 248, 250-251 (Sup.Ct.1935); Malinson v. Black, 83 Cal.App. 2d 375, 188 P. 2d 788, 791-792 (Ct.App.1948); Francis v. Steve Johnson Pontiac-GMC-Jeep, 724 P. 2d 84, 85-86 (Colo.App.1986); Meakin v. Dreier, 209 So. 2d 252 ...

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