Recently, a Massachusetts appeals court affirmed a judgment in favor of an insurance company in a civil action for damages following a motor vehicle accident. Following an accident, automobile insurance companies may pay damages to an injured individual after a determination that their insured was legally at fault for a collision. In this lawsuit, the plaintiff received a payment from the at-fault party’s insurer. He argued that sales tax was recoverable as damages in tort, and it should therefore be recoverable under the insurance policy, even though he had not submitted proof he replaced his damaged vehicle.
The court stated that when looking at an insurance contract, the language is a question of law to be determined by the judge and, on appeal, by a reviewing court. According to the common law of torts, injured individuals accrue a right, following an accident, to be compensated for injuries that have been wrongfully inflicted by another individual or entity.
In this case, the plaintiff was a third party who incurred vehicle damage in a collision with the insured’s vehicle. Under that insured’s automobile insurance policy, the insurer pays the amount that the third party is legally entitled to collect for damage to property that has been determined in a court judgment (or settlement). The policy includes coverage for “applicable sales tax.”
Since the common law of torts looks to make a person “whole” again, through compensation for injuries wrongfully inflicted, damages must be quantified. In legal claims for negligent damage to property, damages are calculated by assessing the difference between the fair market value of property before the loss as compared to its fair market value after the loss. As a result, the court stated that the insurance company need only place the plaintiff where he would be before he suffered the loss. In this case, the court held the plaintiff was not automatically entitled to sales tax without showing that it was part of the damages he incurred (or would incur).
The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the phrase in the policy of “any applicable sales tax” included his total loss claim. The court stated that the amount for applicable sales tax may be counted as part of the damages, but the plaintiff will not automatically receive sales tax without showing it was an element of damages he actually accrued.
At the Law Office of Michael O. Smith, we represent injured individuals in legal claims for compensation following motor vehicle collisions. Asserting a claim against another individual or entity requires careful documentation and strong legal advocacy. Contact our office to learn more about your legal rights and set up a free consultation with an experienced Boston car accident lawyer. We can be reached by calling (617) 263-0060 or using our online form.