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Premier XXI Claims Management v. Rigstad

November 15, 2005

PREMIER XXI CLAIMS MANAGEMENT, AS ASSIGNEE OF EXPRESS CAR AND TRUCK RENTAL, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JOSHUA RIGSTAD, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Camden County, DC-11592-04.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Coburn, P.J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Submitted September 27, 2005

Before Judges Coburn, Collester and Lisa

After a traffic accident, plaintiff sued for damages to its automobile. Defendant admitted liability, and the case was submitted to the judge on a stipulated statement of facts.

Plaintiff contended that it was entitled to damages measured by the difference between the automobile's value immediately before and after the accident. Defendant contended that plaintiff's damages should be limited to the cost of repair. The judge agreed with defendant, and plaintiff appeals.

The automobile's value was $20,825 immediately before the accident and $4,500 immediately afterward. The reasonable cost of repair was $11,762.82, which defendant paid, and plaintiff received without prejudice to maintaining the claim for what plaintiff considered to be the total loss. Plaintiff chose not to repair the automobile, and instead sold it for the $4,500. Consequently, plaintiff demanded judgment in the amount of $4,562.18, calculated as follows: $20,825 (the value before the accident) - $4,500 (the value after the accident) - $11,762.82 (the amount paid by defendant). Defendant had also paid $900 for loss of use.

"The general primary rule is that, in the absence of the total destruction of an automobile the measure of damages is the difference in its value immediately before and after the injury." Jones v. Lahn, 1 N.J. 358, 362 (1949) (citing Hintz v. Roberts, 98 N.J.L. 768 (E. & A. 1923)). Initially our courts admitted the cost of repair only as proof of the difference in value. Hintz expressed the rule in this manner:

No doubt, evidence of the amount paid for repairing the damaged automobile, as well as evidence of the reasonable value of such repairs, made necessary by the injury, and required to restore the car substantially to its former condition, was competent as tending to show the difference in value immediately before and immediately after the injury. But if the car was rendered, by reason of repairs, more valuable than it was before the injury, then, of course, the full expenditure for repairs should not be at the expense of the defendant. On the other hand, if, by reason of the injury, the automobile was rendered incapable of being made by repairs as valuable as it was immediately before the injury, the plaintiff should not be required to lose this deterioration.

[Hintz, supra, 98 N.J.L. at 770 (emphasis added) (citation omitted).]

Two decades later, the Court of Errors and Appeals held that subject to the specific repair rules stated in Hintz, the "damages sustained by an automobile in a collision may be established by showing the reasonable costs of repairs . . . ." Parisi v. Friedman, 134 N.J.L. 273, 274 (E. & A. 1946). And in Fanfarillo v. East End Motor Company, 172 N.J. Super. 309, 313-14 (App. Div. 1980), we applied the principles set out in Hintz and held that when the cost to repair a vehicle is proven, but there exists additional proof showing that even with the repair, the vehicle has depreciated, plaintiff is entitled to the reasonable cost of repair plus the depreciation, if any. More specifically, we said this:

The evidence here showed that the value before the theft was $7,900 and after the theft $5,000, a difference of $2,900. There was also evidence that the vehicle as repaired was worth only $7,500, so that the jury could have found total damages to the vehicle of $2,313 ...


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