On February 19, 2020, the Indiana Court of Appeals issued an opinion that clarified whether plaintiffs can recover damages for the inherent diminished value of personal property caused by the negligence of a tortfeasor. In Shield Global Partners-G1, LLC v. Lindsay Forster, the defendant rear-ended a pickup truck and admitted the accident was her fault. The truck was repaired after the accident occurred and was appraised twice in order to determine its diminished value. The plaintiff then filed a negligence action against the defendant to recover damages for the inherent diminished value of the truck following repairs.
The trial court initially denied the plaintiff’s claim for damages for the diminished value of the truck by equating these damages to “stigma” damages, which are not recoverable unless the property is permanently damaged. However, the Indiana Court of Appeals interpreted the case relied on by the trial court, Wiese-GMC, Inc. v. Wells, to reach a different conclusion.
The Wells case established, among other things, that diminished value damages are recoverable when “repair will not restore the item of personal property to its fair market value before the causative event.” The Indiana Court of Appeals therefore read this case to mean that, “even if the repair restores the property to its previous condition, damages may still be recovered if there is a resulting loss of fair market value to the property as a result of it having been damaged and then repaired.”
The Court of Appeals went on to discuss how property that has been damaged is likely to have a lesser fair market value even if repaired. In other words, recovering the cost of repair is not always sufficient to make an injured party whole again. Even after repairs, an owner may not be able to sell the vehicle at its fair market value before the accident. The Indiana Court of Appeals therefore clarified that when the cost of repair will not restore personal property to its fair market value, the diminution in value may be recovered as well.