When an automobile is damaged in an accident and then repaired, the resale value may be less than a comparable automobile that has not been damaged. In other words, the damage results in a reduction or “diminution” in the resale value of the automobile. An insured’s claim for this reduction in value may be made against a third party that negligently caused the damage to the insured’s automobile, or it may arise from a first-party claim against the insured’s own physical damage coverage. The term “diminished value” can be confusing. There are three types of diminished value:
- Immediate Diminished Value: This is the loss of value which results immediately after an accident before any repairs are made. It is the difference in market value immediately before and after an accident caused by a negligent tortfeasor.
- Inherent Diminished Value: Also known as “residual diminished value”, this refers to the loss of value of an automobile that remains after it is completely and professionally repaired. It is the loss of value that results from the simple fact that the vehicle has been in an accident. This type of diminished value is also known as “stigma damage.” Given two identical vehicles on a car lot, the one never damaged is preferable to the one that has been damaged and repaired.
- Repair-Related Diminished Value: This refers to the additional loss of value to a vehicle that results from incomplete or poorly performed repairs. It could include simple cosmetic damages which remain after repair or major mechanical or structural deficiencies.
The most common and widely used form of diminished value is Inherent Diminished Value. This is the diminished value referred to and made the subject of this chart. In addition, there are two types of diminished value claims, both of which are discussed in this chart:
- First-Party Claims: These are claims made by the vehicle owner/policyholder against his or her own insurance company to recover the difference in the value of the vehicle before the collision and value of the vehicle after the damage caused by collision had been repaired. This type of claim is usually governed by contract law and the terms of the insurance policy. When a vehicle is damaged, a policyholder generally expects to be “made whole” by its first-party property insurer, but an insurer is legally responsible only to pay according to the terms of the policy.
- Third-Party Claims: These are claims made by the owner of a vehicle against a third-party tortfeasor (person other than the insured and insurer) for negligently causing damage to the owner’s vehicle. This type of claim is governed by tort law.
In the typical first-party claim, property damage is traditionally determined based on an amount which is the least of actual cash value (ACV), repair, or depreciation. With first-party coverage, auto carriers have historically taken the position that current vehicle policies were never intended to cover diminished value. Typical policy language provides coverage for “direct and accidental loss of, or damage to, the vehicle.” The industry argument is that diminished value is an indirect loss and would not be covered. In 2001, the Georgia Supreme Court decided a case which challenged this viewpoint. In State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Mabry, 556 S.E.2d 114 (Ga. 2001)—sometimes regarded as the first diminution in value case—the Georgia Supreme Court interpreted “loss” to include residual diminished value (after repairs were property and professionally completed to the vehicle). State Farm was ordered to pay $150 million in attorneys’ fees and settlement costs and to develop a claims handling procedure to evaluate and pay first-party diminished value claims. The court held that the issue as to whether diminution in value of an automobile occurs even when physical damage is properly repaired is one of fact when an insured sues its auto carrier to recover for diminution in value.
On November 29, 2001—the day after the Georgia decision in Mabry—the Wisconsin Court of Appeals decided Wisconsin’s own first-party diminution in value case. In Wildin v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co., 638 N.W.2d 87 (Wis. Ct. App. 2001). The court affirmed a trial court’s grant of the insurer’s motion to dismiss the insured’s complaint against the insurer for failure to pay residual diminished value in addition to repair costs. The insured argued that despite the repairs, no repair could have restored the vehicle to pre-loss condition because of unibody structure and/or frame damage. The court disagreed with the insured, holding that the policy language only required the carrier to pay for all necessary “repairs” and “repair,” given its ordinarily understood meaning, and this did not mean the carrier had to restore the vehicle to its pre-loss value.
Diminished value litigation swept the country, and carriers responded by tweaking their policy language. Some included diminished value exclusions, while others added endorsements which clearly set forth that the definition of “loss” did not include any difference in the residual market value of the vehicle after repairs.
In arriving at the correct measure of damages in a first-party claim to recover under an automobile collision policy, such a claim is not a suit for damages, but a contract claim based on the terms of the insurance policy. Therefore, the measure of damages applied in a lawsuit based upon an alleged tort is not the correct rule to be applied. The language and terms of the insurance policy sued upon must prevail, and such language, so far as applicable to the question, must determine the rule as to the measure of damages to be followed. With regard to first-party claims, the Insurance Services Office (ISO) contract language (specifically the Limit of Liability Condition) arguably appears to cover only the Actual Cash Value (ACV) of the damage or the actual cost to repair the damage. There is often nothing in the policy language that would contractually cover any reduction in market value, even if the insured were able to prove the amount of reduction in value. On the other hand, the policy clearly allows the insurer to deduct for “betterment” or depreciation, although the burden of proof is on the insurer to demonstrate such depreciation or betterment. In physical damage claims, the policy allows the carrier to deduct for an “improvement” in value (i.e., betterment) due to repairs with newer parts, but will not compensate the insured for a reduction in value due to the same accident. There is a disparity among the various states regarding recovery of diminution in value in first-party cases. Insurance claims professionals should be aware of when and how the laws of each state deal with diminution in value. Georgia is in the minority of states that require insurers to pay the diminished value as well as the cost of repair of an automobile when the policy covers “actual loss or damage”, even if the insured does not make a claim for the diminished value.
In some states, a distinction is made between “diminished value” and “stigma damages.” “Diminished value” is what a vehicle suffers when it sustains physical damage in an accident but, due to the nature of the damages, cannot be fully restored (via repairs) to its pre-loss condition. An example is weakened steel in the vehicle. “Stigma damages” occur when a vehicle has been fully restored to its pre-loss condition, but it carries an intangible taint due to its having been involved in an accident. Moeller v. Farmers Ins. Co. of Washington, 267 P.3d 998 (Wash. 2011). Stigma damages are generally disfavored. Some states have resolved this question through statute, while many others have authorized policy language that expressly excludes diminished value coverage.
Where a policy gives the insurer the option of compensating loss by either money or repair or replacement – but, does not allow a combination of the three, the majority rule is that payment of diminished value is not required by a “repair or replace” policy because repair unambiguously encompasses only a concept of tangible, physical value, see, e.g., Sims v. Allstate Ins. Co., 851 N.E.2d 701 (Ill. App. 2006), or because a reading that encompassed value would eliminate an insurer’s option to either repair or compensate with money. See, e.g., O’Brien v. Progressive N. Ins. Co., 785 A.2d 281 (Del. Super. 2001). The minority rule is that, because the average insurance consumer would read a “repair or replace” policy to provide coverage of equal value when a car is repaired, replaced, or “totaled,” the coverage provision encompasses diminished value loss, and the limits of liability and payment of loss provisions do not unambiguously exclude it. Moeller, supra.
Unlike first-party claims, a third-party diminished value claim involves a tort claim and/or lawsuit filed by a vehicle owner or subrogated carrier against a tortfeasor responsible for causing damages in an accident. Damage to a motor vehicle caused by the “scarlet letter” of an accident history is a factor that bears on value and is recoverable if supported by sufficient proof, depending on the jurisdiction. Each state evolved its own law of damages over time. In Wisconsin, for example, the tort measure of damages to repairable property was the lesser of (1) repairs costs, or (2) the difference between fair market value of the property immediately before and immediately after the loss. In Wisconsin, the Supreme Court rejected the blanket “lower of the two” rule and announced that in certain cases, it is possible to have both types of damages. Hellenbrand v. Hilliard, 687 N.W.2d 37 (Wis. App. 2004). The Supreme Court noted that, despite having previously assumed that if property is repairable, then repairing the property makes the plaintiff whole, it relied on a “collapsed basement” case to extrapolate that the mandated disclosure of an adverse condition to prospective purchasers could impair market value of the property. If an owner proves that repairs did not restore the vehicle to its pre-injury value, residual diminution in value could be recovered as an element of tort property damages.
In third-party claims for property damage to automobiles because of a collision for which a third party was at fault, the measure of damages is traditionally—but not always—the difference between the market value before and after the collision (“diminution of value”) or the reasonable repair value – whichever is greater. Such third-party diminution claims have generally been found by the courts to be covered by automobile insurance since the measure of damage in tort claims (which the insurer promises to pay) is the difference in the value of the property before the loss and the value of the property after the loss. For example, Texas court cases have found that legal liability for third-party damages includes diminution in value. Ludt v. McCollum, 762 S.W.2d 575 (Tex. 1988); Terminix Int’l, Inc. v. Lucci, 670 S.W.2d 657 (Tex. App. 1984). In New Jersey, however, the measure of damages is the difference between the market value of the vehicle before and after the damage occurred. However, if the vehicle is not substantially damaged and it can be repaired at a cost less than the difference between its market value before and after the damage occurred, the plaintiff’s damages would be limited to the cost of the repairs. Jones v. Lahn, 63 A.2d 804 (N.J. 1949). Both the cost of repair and diminution in value have traditionally been regarded as acceptable methods of proving the amount of damage to property in third-party cases. In R & Y, Inc. v. Municipality of Anchorage, 34 P.3d 289 (Alaska 2001), the Alaska Supreme Court used “diminution in value” as a method of establishing tort damages. The Restatement of Torts § 928 states as follows:
“Where a person is entitled to a judgment for harm to chattels not amounting to a total destruction in value, the damages include compensation for: (a) the difference between the value of the chattel before the harm and the value after the harm, or at the plaintiff’s election, the reasonable cost of repairs or restoration where feasible, with due allowance for any difference between the original value and the value after repairs.”
The following states allow recovery for diminution in value of a damaged vehicle in a third-party claim. Arizona: Farmers Ins. Co. v. R.B.L. Investment, Inc., 675 P.2d 1381 (Ariz. 1983); Colorado: Trujillo v. Wilson, 189 P.2d 147 (Colo. 1948); Airborne v. Denver Air Center, 832 P.2d 1086 (Colo. App. 1992); Florida: McHale v. Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co., 409 So.2d 238 (Fla. 1982); Georgia: Perma Ad Ideas v. Mayville, 282 S.E.2d 128 (Ga. 1981); Illinois: Trailmobile Division v. Higgs, 297 N.E.2d 598 (Ill. 1973); Indiana: Wiese-GMC v. Wells, 626 N.E.2d 595 (Ind. 1993); Iowa: Halferty v. Hawkeye Dodge, 158 N.W.2d 750 (Iowa 1968); Kansas: Broadie v. Randall, 216 P. 1103 (Kan. 1923); Louisiana: Orillac v. Solomon, 765 So.2d 1185 (La. 2000); Maryland: Fred Frederick v. Krause, 277 A.2d 464 (Md. 1971); New Mexico: Hubbard v. Albuquerque, 958 P.2d 111 (N.M. 1998); New York: Rosenfield v. Choberka, 529 N.Y.S.2d 455 (N.Y. 1988); Oregon: EAM Advertising Agency v. Helies, 954 P.2d 812 (Or. App. 1998); South Carolina: Newman v. Brown, 90 S.E.2d 649 (S.C. 1955); and Virginia: Averett v. Shircliff, 237 S.E.2d 92 (Va. 1977). It should be remembered that diminution in value of a vehicle after repairs have been conducted can be difficult to prove and, in some states, the burden is quite high. EAM Advertising Agency v. Helies, supra. In some cases, it may be necessary to actually sell it in its damaged condition in order to establish its post-crash market value or, at a minimum, engage an expert appraiser to provide a detailed report.
Formula for Determining Diminished Value Claims
In states where diminished value claims are allowed and pursued, expert testimony on the value of a vehicle remains the main avenue for proving such claims. However, an industry which thrives on simplicity and predictability has made efforts to arrive at a functional uniform formula for calculating such claims. In State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Mabry, 556 S.E.2d 114 (Ga. 2001), the Georgia Supreme Court reviewed a class action suit involving thousands of individual first-party inherent diminished value claims and took the initiative to arrive at a formula known as “The 17(c) Formula.” State Farm sampled thousands of claims from the class to determine the best of many formulas available at that time. The 17(c) formula, based upon a previous regulation issued by the Georgia Insurance Commissioner’s office and used by Safeco, Progressive, Nationwide, and Crawford & Co., resulted in the lowest calculation and was the easiest to calculate. Under the 17(c) formula, a vehicle’s Base Loss in Value (10% of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) retail value) is multiplied by mileage and subjective damage modifiers (severe, major, moderate, minor, and no structural damage) based on the vehicle’s mileage and the amount of damage it sustained. So, for example, if a vehicle valued at $16,000 with 50,000 miles sustained moderate damage, its diminished value would be calculated as: $1600 x.50 (moderate damage modifier) x.60 (mileage modifier) for a diminished value of $480. However, this formula was for use in a class action suit and hasn’t been formally adopted for general use. Many contend it arbitrarily assigns different modifiers based on mileage and damage and that a vehicle’s NADA value already takes mileage into consideration, making the mileage modifier a double penalty. In addition, it is felt that the damage modifier should be based on the cost to repair, not some arbitrary scale of 0-1. Many people also contended that a vehicle must be physically inspected in order to determine its post-accident value, and the 17(c) formula is not based on a physical inspection. Despite its flaws, the 17(c) formula offers an easy and uniform way of assessing diminished value and is used by many insurers in Georgia today. The Georgia Court of Appeals has held that it is not bad faith for a first-party insurer to use this formula to calculate a diminished value claim. Amica Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sanders, 779 S.E.2d 459 (Ga. App. 2015).
Other states, such as North Carolina, on the other hand, uses a variety of methods to determine diminished value, including the ClaimCoach.com system and the Classic Car Appraisal Service (Don Peterson) methodology, in addition the 17(c) formula mentioned above. North Carolina has actually passed a statute which outlines the procedure for a policyholder to have a first-party diminished value claim. N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 20-279.21(d)(1) provides that, if an insurer’s and policyholder’s estimate of diminished value differs by more than $2,000 or 25% of the vehicle’s fair market retail value, then each party selects an independent appraiser to appraise the loss. If they cannot agree on a number, then a third-party umpire is called to determine the diminished value, whose report is binding on the parties. Though time-consuming, this method avoids the criticism of the 17(c) formula and keeps the parties out of court. The correct way to prove diminished value claims was followed in Canal Ins. Co. v. Tullis, 515 S.E.2d 649 (Ga. App. 1999), involves two options: (1) the difference of the fair market value pre- and post-collisions; and (2) the reasonable cost of repairs, together with loss of use and the value of any additional permanent impairment, provided that the aggregate of such amount does not exceed the fair market value before the collision.
Diminished Value Damages Exclusions Under Auto Liability Policy
Some automobile policies exclude first-party payment of diminished value claims. In third-party claims, however, automobile liability policies vary from state to state. Usually, the policy agrees to “pay damages for bodily injury or property damage for which any insured becomes legally responsible because of an auto accident.” Some policies, on the other hand, have liability exclusions for certain types of damages. For example, in the Massachusetts case of Merullo v. Amica Mut. Insuance Co., 2022 WL 17417717 (D. Mass. 2022), the 2016 Standard Auto Policy therein provided as follows:
Part 4. Damage to Someone Else’s Property.
Under this Part, we will pay for damage or destruction of the tangible property of others caused by an accident and arising from the ownership, maintenance, or use of an auto, including loading or unloading. The amount we will pay is the amount the owner of the property is legally entitled to collect through a court judgment or settlement for the damaged property. We will pay only if you, a household member, or someone else using your auto with your consent is legally responsible for the accident. The amount we will pay includes, if any, applicable sales tax and the loss of use of the damaged property. The amount we will pay does not include compensation for physical damage to, or towing or recovery of, your auto or other auto used by you or a household member with the consent of the owner, or any decreased value or intangible loss claimed to result from the property damage unless otherwise required by law.
The plaintiff demanded payment from Amica to repair his vehicle and for the inherent diminution in value (“IDV”) the vehicle suffered as a result of the accident. The court held that the plain language of the 2016 Standard Policy excluding third-party recovery of IDV damages. An earlier case involved the 2008 Standard Policy which included much broader language regarding liability coverage:
Under this Part 4, we will pay damages to someone else whose auto or other property is damaged in an accident. The damages we will pay are the amounts that person is legally entitled to collect for property damage through a court judgment or settlement. We will pay only if you or a household member is legally responsible for the accident. We will also pay if someone else using your auto with your consent is legally responsible for the accident. Damages include any applicable sales tax and the costs resulting from the loss of use of the damaged property.
McGilloway v. Safety Ins. Co., 174 N.E.3d 1191, 1194 (Mass. 2021). The court in McGilloway held Part 4 of this particular policy required the defendants to pay claims for IDV to vehicles that are damaged and subsequently repaired, provided that the claimant establishes both (1) that his or her vehicle suffered IDV, and (2) the amount of IDV damages owed. Therefore, the ability to recover third-party Diminution in Value damages might also depend on the specific liability policy language at play.
And….this is why they call what we do “practicing.” I must admit that I have seemingly always conflated the ability to recover third-party IDV damages with the fact that a third party liability policy might not provide coverage. The distinction here is that Massachusetts appears to allow recovery of IDV damages, but in your particular case, as in the McGilloway case, the liability policy involved disclaims such damages. I would imagine this is an oversight by those who approved the 2016 form policy. There is no reason disclaimer of these damages should be allowed – because you surely can still recover those damages. It’s just that the third party policy isn’t going to cover them.
In Fin. Services Veh. Tr. v. Panter, 204 A.3d 303, 310 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2019), the Superior Court said for the first time that a claim for third-party diminution in value because plaintiffs’ vehicles bear the “scarlet letter” of an accident history was cognizable and an award to redress such a loss was not speculative. It also noted that a liability carrier cannot deny a claim for third-party DIV damages simply because it was not able to inspect the vehicle.
For questions regarding automobile third-party diminution in value claims, contact Gary Wickert at email@example.com.
Gary Wickert is an insurance trial lawyer and a partner with Matthiesen, Wickert & Lehrer, S.C., and is regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on insurance subrogation. He is the author of several subrogation books and legal treatises and is a national and international speaker and lecturer on subrogation and motivational topics.