Most lawyers do not handle car damage claims only, but will assist at no charge if they also represent the person in a personal injury claim arising out of the same accident. This is certainly the custom in Wisconsin for the vast majority of personal injury attorneys, including on most occasions our office. There are exceptions.
Car damage may be partial and repairable or it could be a total loss. Calculating damages is different in each accident case.
If it’s a total loss, meaning not repairable, the automobile’s value immediately preceding the accident is the proper measure of damages. Nashban Barrel & Container Co. v. G.G. Parsons Trucking Co., 49 Wis. 2d 591 (1971). An automobile’s market value is the fair market value that someone would pay for it. Whether an automobile is repairable is a factual question to be determined by the jury. Kremer v. Rule, 216 Wis. 331 (1934), but insurance companies often say if it would cost 50% or 70% of the total value to repair, then it’s a total loss. The salvage value of the automobile must be deducted from the recovery, unless you turn the car over to the insurance company and they get the salvage value. Engh v. Calvert Fire Ins. Co., 266 Wis. 419 (1954).
If the car damage is repairable, the damages are the reasonable cost of repairs, often determined by several legitimate estimates. Sometimes, the repairs do not make restore the value of the vehicle. If repairs to the automobile have not restored it to its preinjury value and the plaintiff has been or will be harmed by such loss in value, the plaintiff is entitled to damages for the proven lost value in addition to damages for the reasonable cost of repair. Hellenbrand v. Hilliard, 2004 WI App 151, ¶ 25 , 275 Wis. 2d 741. However, this is difficult to prove, may require expert opinions, and is generally not something our office would handle in the typical property damage claim process.
In addition to repair cost or total value, recovery for loss of use is payable. Nashban Barrel & Container Co. v. G.G. Parsons Trucking Co., 49 Wis. 2d 591 (1971). See also Wis. JI–Civil 1801. Damages for loss of use are allowed for the period reasonably required for replacement, including the time reasonably required to determine whether the automobile is in fact repairable. Damages for loss of use should equal the amount expended for a temporary replacement, provided such an amount is reasonable.
McCormick Law Office attorneys in Milwaukee, Wisconsin assist our personal injury clients with property damage claims for free, but this does not include litigation or incurring costs such as expert opinions, or diminished value.