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Loss of Use - Vehicle - California Law

If your car or vehicle has been damaged and needs repairs or is deemed a “total loss” (i.e. totaled), you are entitled to recover damages for “loss of use” of the vehicle.

"Vehicle" includes a car, truck, motorcycle, bicycle, etc.

To recover damages for “loss of use” of a vehicle, you must prove:

(1) The reasonable cost to rent a similar vehicle

(2) for the amount of time reasonably necessary to repair the vehicle's damage or replace the totaled vehicle.   See CACI 3903M. 

Further, the vehicle must have been being actually and regularly used before the damage or destruction occurred to it.   Metz v. Soares (2006) 142 Cal.App.4th 1250, 1256–1258.

You may recover loss of use damages even if you do not actually rent a substitute vehicle. Tremeroli v. Austin Trailer Equipment Co. (1951) 102 Cal.App.2d  464, 482.

For example, if a similar vehicle had a $30.00 per day ”reasonable rental” value and a reasonable repair time was 20 days, then $30 x 20 = $600 damages for loss of use.

Rental insurance for a rental car is not recoverable generally.

Loss of use is just one of several categories of damages recoverable in property damage claims.  To learn about other recoverable damage categories, see article: Vehicle Insurance Property Damage Claims.

"To prove loss-of-use values, the plaintiff can either present receipts of costs incurred in renting a substitute vehicle or testify to other transportation costs, such as bus, train, or taxi fares." (Cal. Tort Damages (Cont. Ed. Bar 2d ed 2003) Vehicles and Other Personal Property, 13.13, p. 397.)  "If no substitute vehicle is rented or no receipts are available, the plaintiff can use advertisements indicating car rental costs, or obtain written documentation of car rental costs from a company that rents vehicles to the public.   If necessary, the plaintiff can have someone who works for a car rental agency testify as an expert witness regarding reasonable rental costs." (Ibid.).

A similar substitute luxury automobile or vintage motorcycle most likely have a substantially higher reasonable rental value than a 25 year old clunker truck.

Other case quotations:

Valencia v. Shell Oil Co. (1944) 23 Cal.2d 840, 844 ["…an owner's recovery for being deprived of the use of a damaged vehicle is generally … the period of time reasonably required for the making of repairs." ].

"…[Whether in] cases in which the property is totally destroyed [i.e. total loss] and those in which it has been injured [i.e. damaged] but is repairable, … when the owner of a negligently destroyed commercial vehicle has suffered injury by being deprived of the use of the vehicle during the period required for replacement, he is entitled, upon proper pleading and proof, to recover for loss of use…" [Words in brackets added to original text] (Reynolds v. Bank of America National Trust & Savings Assn. (1959) 53 Cal.2d 49, 50-51.)

"The value of the 'loss of use' of the car is the rental value of a substitute vehicle; …damages…may be determined with reference to the rental value of similar property which the plaintiff can hire for use during the period when he is deprived of the use of his own property." (Collin v. American Empire Insurance Co. (1994) 21 Cal.App.4th 787, 818

Disclaimer: The above is general information whose accuracy is not guaranteed and not legal advice.  The above is a simplified explanation of law.  Property damage claims can be simple or complex.  This article provides some generalized basics but is not exhaustive in covering all the particulars, nuances, variables and issues that may arise.  Laws change frequently which may make certain statements herein obsolete or no longer accurate.  Therefore, don't rely on the information above in making final determinations regarding handling loss of use claims.  But consult with or retain an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer for advice and/or representation.  See also further Disclaimer.

By MB Tozer Esq.

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