Legal Issues in the Coronavirus Pandemic

First and foremost, we at Gilbert & Greif, P.A. want you to stay safe and healthy during these times. Federal, state and local authorities are issuing guidelines and bulletins daily, and there will be more to come. Business at every level is affected, and families and individuals face uncertainty regarding what lies ahead, both medically and financially.

Like everyone else, we have been impacted by these events, but the good news is that we are open and available to assist our clients with their legal questions and problems. Some may arise specifically out of the coronavirus situation, and others are part of everyday life, as unusual as things are at the moment. For the safety of all, we are restricting personal visits to the office, but we can still cover a lot of ground through phone, video and email. The law has faced previous pandemics so there is precedent to be drawn on. Although there has been some emergency legislation passed at both the federal and state levels, most of what we deal with and have dealt with for years remains in place. Because of court shutdowns, there will be delays in certain cases, but that is nothing new. We resolve to remain calm and carry on. If we can be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact us.


The Damages Dilemma: Cost to Cure versus Market Value

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Over the years, we have received numerous calls from potential clients upset over the property damage settlement offered by the insurance company totaling the caller's vehicle. The typical lament goes something like this:

My car ran perfectly, was reliable and was paid for. The repair estimate was $7500, but the adjuster said the fair market value is only $4800. I can't get anywhere near the car I had for $4800. I just want my old car back.

This common situation results from application of the standard legal measure of damages for property: the damages are the difference between the value of the property just before the accident and its value just after the accident. Even if the property is totally destroyed and the "after" value is zero, the resulting sum can't be any larger than the market value of the property at the time of the accident. While the law provides that the cost to fix the damage can be considered as some evidence of the difference, the upper limit is the fair market value of the property. Simply put, you can't recover more than the property is worth on the open market, even if the cost of fixing it is considerably more than the value.

Recently, a small chink has appeared in that longstanding legal doctrine. The Massachusetts Court of Appeals has upheld a damage award for the "cost to cure" an injured pet. A veterinary bill of over $8000 was held to be a reasonable recovery to treat and cure an injured dog which had been viciously attacked by another dog, even though the "market value" of the dog was much less. Traditionally, animals have been regarded by the law as property, subject to the same rules as other types of property. This decision opens the door at least a little bit to the idea that repair rather than replacement may be appropriate in some circumstances. However, most people would have to admit that, no matter how attached some of us become to our vehicles, they aren't yet in the same league as a beloved family pet. Therefore, don't expect a court decision upholding the cost to pay thousands of dollars over market value to fix that 2004 Ford Focus anytime soon.