Loss of Use: why every car is always your daily driver, you never sign a long term storage unit contract, and you fix your boat in spring

When someone damages your property you can always sue for replacement or repair.  That’s pretty straight forward.  What about the fact that you’re without your property?  Loss of use damages are damages attributable to the inability to use property, premises, or articles due to someone else’s negligence or tortious conduct.  So, when can you get loss of use damages?  How much can you get?  What the heck does this have to do with daily drivers and storage units?  Bear with me.

Mondragon (Sad Dad)
In Cirilo Mondragon v. Morris Austin (1997) 954 S.W.2d 191, a father (Morris Austin) purchased a car for his daughter to drive while she was away at college.  Neither Morris nor his daughter ever used the car.  Two months after purchase, Mondragon had a few too many drinks and ran into Morris’ recently purchased car (while driving backwards).  For whatever reason, Mondragon’s insurance company denied the claim.  Mondragon also refused to pay.  Morris had an unusable car, a daughter without a car, and Morris was broke.  Close to two years later (and the statute of limitations) Morris sued.  He said he had been too broke to fix the car and Mondragon owed him for the damage to the car, but also for the loss of use of the car for the last two years.  The court found Morris suffered $8,020 in loss of use damages, $1,716 in prejudgment interest, and $2,752 in repair costs.  Essentially $8,020 was the cost of utilizing a comparable rental car for the two year period.  Note: in most jurisdictions, the fair market value of the item itself is not a ceiling on loss of use damages.
Metz (Classic Car Collector)
In Metz v. Soares (2006) 142 Cal.App.4th 1250, John Metz was a classic car collector.  He took his 1971 Jaguar XKE to the shop for repair.  First of all, I think a 1971 Jaguar XKE looks like a shoe.  Second, if you are going to collect a 1971 British car, buy the inaugural year of the Corniche like a big boy.  I digress.  The body shop left the car out in the rain with the hood open and the car was ruined.  Metz sued for loss of use damages.  The court denied Metz’s loss of use damages because the car was not regularly used.  He only drove it once in a while on the weekends—and the court found that was not frequent enough to merit loss of use damages. 
Conqueror (Sad Yacht Owner)
In The Conqueror (1897) 166 US 110, a pleasure yacht was wrongfully seized and detained for five months during fall and winter by the collector of customs (US Government).  The Yacht owner sued for loss of use of their yacht.  The court found that the government owed the yacht owner no money, because the yacht would not have been used during fall and winter anyway because it was too cold.
Shearer (Storage Unit Holder)
In Shearer v. Taylor (1906) 106 Va. 26, a man had furniture in a storage unit under a six month contract.  His furniture was wrongfully detained and he was unable to use it.  The court found Shearer had no loss of use damages because the six month contract indicated he didn’t plan on using the furniture for that length of time anyway.
What does this all mean?
Like Morris Austin, even if you have not used a car, but plan on using it frequently a court will give you loss of use damages.  It will even give you loss of use damages if you’re broke and you let the damaged car sit on the side of your house for two years.  But you won’t receive  any loss of use damages if it appears as though you haven’t been using your car very much—like John Metz.  They won’t give you less loss of use damages, they simply will give you none at all. 
So, if you ever get into an accident the car you are driving is always your daily driver.  If you ever drop your car off at the shop, the car you are driving is always your daily driver.  Don’t brag about how you own five cars.  The Conqueror indicates that you may not want to drop off your boat at the mechanic at the end of season, but rather may want to wait until the beginning of season to fix your boat.  If you ever get a storage unit never sign a long term storage contract and also indicate somewhere that you plan on getting your items out frequently. 
But it’s not like planes crash into storage units or anything.
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Filed under Civil Litigation, Tort

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