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Dudley PRICE and Deniece Christie., a/a/o Tamisha Fowler, Plaintiff, v. Robert LUHRS, Defendant.

No. 044417–09/KI.

Decided: September 07, 2012

Robert Schirtzer, Esq., Forest Hills, Attorneys for Plaintiff. Schondebare & Korcz, Ronkonkoma, Attorneys for Defendant.

This case raises the novel issue of whether a plaintiff may recover as damages the remainder due on an auto finance loan from a defendant who concedes liability in a motor vehicle accident.

Plaintiffs Dudley Price and Deniece Christie (“plaintiffs”) seek $7,173.88 in damages to their vehicle, and other “incidental expenses,” as a result of a motor vehicle accident which occurred between then and defendant Robert Luhrs (“Luhrs” or defendant') on or about June 18, 2008. At trial, defendant admitted to liability and proved that plaintiffs had received full payment for the property damage to their vehicle through their automobile insurance company—Hartford In. Co.—and that Hartford was fully subrogated by defendant's insurance company-Allstate. Specifically, by check dated December 31, 2008, Allstate paid “Hartford, as subrogee of Dudley Price” the amount of $10,512.55, which was cashed a week later. The check was for “Property Damage Liability” to cover all property damage and loss of use (rental car reimbursement in the amount of $300).

Plaintiffs thereupon narrowed their claim to a number of ancillary items which they claim they purportedly incurred as a result of the accident, including $54.00 for gas they purchased two days before the accident; $9.20 for a disposable camera they purchased on June 19th to take pictures of the accident and $8.23 for the pictures; $88.15 for car rental fees from 6/18–25; and the bulk of their claim—$3,237.96—for payments they made on an auto finance agreement with the Municipal Credit Unit (“MCU”) in June and July, 2008.

The concept of proximate cause “has proven to be an elusive one, incapable of being precisely defined to cover all situations.” Derdiarian v. Felix Contractor Corp., 51 N.Y.2d 308, 314–15 (1980). See, Pagan v. Goldberger, 51 A.D.2d 508, 509 (2nd Dept.1976); Prosser, Law of Torts [4th ed], § 42, p 249. The concept stems from policy considerations “that serve to place manageable limits upon the liability that flows from negligent conduct.” Derdiarian, supra, 51 N.Y.2d at 315; Ventricelli v. Kinney System Rent A Car, 45 N.Y.2d 950 (1978). To carry the burden of proving a prima facie case, the plaintiff must generally show that the defendant's negligence was a substantial cause of the events which produced the injury (Nallan v. Helmsley–Spear, Inc., 50 N.Y.2d 507, 520 (1980); Restatement of Torts 2d, § 431 (1979).

The law limits damages which are the “natural, probable, and direct consequences of the wrongful act.” Kreindler, NY Law of Torts, § 21.8 at 292–93 (1997); Diaz v. Little Remedies Co., Inc., 81 AD3d 1419 (4th Dept.2011). Where property is damaged, the plaintiff is entitled to recover under either the “diminished value rule”—the difference between the market value of the property immediately before and after the harm was done—or the “cost rule” which gives the plaintiff the cost of repair or replacement. Dobbs, The Law of Torts, 2d Ed., § 481 at pp. 20–12 (2011). See, Miller v. Sanchez, 6 Misc.3d 479 (Civil Ct., Kings Co.2004). The plaintiff may also recover for resulting consequential losses because the property cannot be used during repair or replacement, such as lost profits. Dobbs, supra at 22. See Tri–G, Inc. v. Burke, 222 Ill.2d 218, 856 N.E.2d 389 (2006).

Applying these rules to damages resulting from automobile accidents, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the cost of repairing the vehicle, as reflected in certain estimates, did not exceed either the diminution in the market value of the vehicle caused by the accident, or the market value of the automobile in its preaccident condition. Underwriter v. Gas, 153 A.D.2d 848, 849 (2d Dept.1989). See, Prosser, op cit, § 481 at p. 20; Miller v. Sanchez, supra, 6 Misc.3d at 481. In other words, the plaintiff is entitled to the costs of repair “so long as that cost is less than the diminution in market value resulting from the injury and the repairs do not exceed the value of the automobile as it was prior to the injury.” Schwartz v. Crozier, 169 A.D.2d 1003, 1004 (3d Dept 1991).

Since there is no dispute that plaintiffs were already compensated for the market value of their vehicle, the only issue remaining is whether they may recover for any of the ancillary costs listed above. As the subrogation check to plaintiff's insurance carrier included $300 for the cost of the rental car, the Court disallows the claim of $88.15 for the rental car. The Court permits recovery for the camera costs and half the cost of the gas as plaintiff failed to present evidence as to how much, if any of the gas was utilized prior to the accident.

The Court also declines to award plaintiff for the payments they made on their MCU car loan after the accident. Plaintiffs inartfully argued that their obligation to pay the remainder of their auto loan was a consequential damage of the accident since they were now obligated to pay for a vehicle that they could no longer use. However, the auto loan cannot be considered a consequential damage since plaintiff's obligation to pay off the car loan was not a “natural, probable, and direct consequence of the wrongful act” but rather an independent obligation that arose before the accident and existed beyond the time of the accident, regardless of the shape of or very existence of the car after the accident. Cf. Grand Metro Transit v. Michigan Mutual Ins. Co, 170 Misc.2d 872, 874–75 (Sup Ct., Nass. Co.1996).

In light of the above, plaintiffs are awarded the sum of $44.43 plus interest and costs.