Recoverable Damages for a Motor Carrier following an MVA
Commercial motor carriers may be eligible in Alabama to recover damages for loss of use of a commercial vehicle following an accident in which the motor carrier is not at fault.
While innumerable radio and television commercials are directed toward the individuals who are involved in motor vehicle accidents and may be entitled to recover certain damages, very little information is readily available for commercial motor carriers to identify what damages may be available, following a motor vehicle accident in which the motor carrier and its driver were not at fault. It is common knowledge that the motor carrier may be able to recover for property damages, but there are other, less-well-known items of damages that may likewise be available.
Loss of Use Damages for a Damaged Vehicle
Following a motor vehicle accident, a motor carrier may be able to make a claim for repairs to or loss of use of a commercial vehicle, if it can show that the damages are derived from the reasonable market value of loss of the use of the vehicle for the time reasonably necessary for its repair plus the reasonable cost of repair, to substantially restore the vehicle to its former condition. If it is determined that the loss of use of the vehicle and the repairs to the vehicle were caused by the person or entity against whom the motor carrier is making claims, then the motor carrier may be able to recover the reasonable market value of the loss of use and the reasonable costs to repair. The motor carrier is not required even to repair the vehicle in order to be entitled to a claim for compensation for the loss of its use during the time reasonably necessary for repairs. The mere fact that there was a loss is sufficient to entitle the motor carrier to a recovery.
Where the cost of repair does not adequately reflect the damages suffered to a commercial vehicle (such as, when specialized equipment is repaired but does not ever work properly again), the owner of a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) can recover the difference between the before-and-after value of the CMV, plus valuation of use of the vehicle during the period of repair, rather than only damages for cost of repairs.
Typically, lost profits are not recoverable, but if the motor carrier can prove that a substitute vehicle was not available while its vehicle was being repaired, it may be able to recover lost profits sustained as a result of damage to the vehicle. However, if there is a lease pertaining to the use or operation of the damaged vehicle, the proper measure of damages for the owner’s loss of the truck’s use or hire during time required to make repairs was not the full rental the owner could have been paid, but the net amount after reducing the rental charge by necessary expenses incurred such as gas, oil, lubrication, maintenance requirements, depreciation and upkeep.
In short, when a commercial has sustained damage, requiring a vehicle to be repaired, as a result of another party’s conduct, the owner of the commercial vehicle may be entitled to recover the loss of value (if any), the costs of repair, and loss of use during repair.
Loss of Use Damages for a Destroyed Vehicle
Alabama is among a growing minority of states that allow loss-of-use damages, not only for damaged vehicles, but also for destroyed vehicles. In December 2012 in the matter of Ex parte S & M, LLC (commonly known as the “Huntsville Cab” case), the Supreme Court of Alabama held that even for a CMV that had sustained irreparable damage, the owner of the commercial vehicle was entitled to recover reasonable loss-of-use damages for the period of time reasonably required to procure a suitable replacement vehicle. This decision overruled sixty years of Alabama case law and set Alabama squarely amid the minority of states adopting the modern trend to allow damages for the loss of use of a commercial vehicle, when the vehicle had been totally (rather than only partially) destroyed.
Other states allowing damages for loss of use of a commercial vehicle in matters pertaining to the total destruction of a vehicle include: Alaska, Arkansas, California, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
 See Dean v. Johnston, 206 So.2d 610 (Ala. 1968); see also APJI 11.37 (stating: “The measure of damages is the reasonable market value of loss of the use of the [vehicle] for the time reasonably necessary for its repair plus the reasonable cost of repair, to substantially restore the vehicle to its former condition.”).
 See APJI 11.37.
 See Fuller v. Martin, 125 So.2d 4, 8 (Ala. 1960); see also Etno, Inc. v. Rivers, 644 So.2d 3, 5 (Ala.Civ.App. 1994).
 Coffee County Com’n v. Smith, 480 So.2d 1194 (Ala. 1985).
 See Taylor v. Mason, 390 So.2d 1046 (Ala. 1980); see also Wilson & Co. v. Sims, 34 So.2d 689 (Ala. 1948).
 See Rowell v. Treadwell Ford, Inc., 511 F.2d 164 (5th Cir. 1975).
 See Coffee County Com’n, 480 So.2d 1194.
 See Ex parte S & M, LLC, 120 So.3d 509 (Ala.2012).
 See Alaska Constr. Equip., Inc. v. Star Trucking, Inc., 128 P.3d 164, 169 (Alaska 2006); Stevens v. Mid–Continent Invs., Inc., 517 S.W.2d 208, 209 (Ark.1974); Reynolds v. Bank of Am. Nat’l T. & S. Ass’n, 345 P.2d 926, 927 (Cal.1959) (holding as its reasoning: “There appears to be no logical or practical reason why a distinction should be drawn between cases in which the property is totally destroyed and those in which it has been injured but is repairable[.]”);Gamble v. Smith, 386 A.2d 692, 694–95 (D.C.1978); Fukida v. Hon/Hawaii Serv. & Repair, 33 P.3d 204, 210–11 (Haw.2001); Long v. McAllister, 319 N.W.2d 256, 261 (Iowa 1982) (holding, “Loss of use damages will be incurred as readily when a vehicle is totally destroyed or when it cannot be restored by repair to its prior condition as when the vehicle can be restored by repair.” “Just as loss of use damages are necessary for full compensation when the vehicle can be restored to its prior condition, they are warranted when the vehicle is destroyed or cannot be so restored.”); Peterson v. Bachar, 392 P.2d 853, 857 (Kan.1964); Louisville & Nashville R.R. v. Blanton, 200 S.W.2d 133, 138 (1947); Weishaar v. Canestrale, 217 A.2d 525, 530–31 (Md.1966); Gateway Foam Insulators, Inc. v. Jokerst Paving & Contracting, Inc., 279 S.W.3d 179, 184–85 (Mo.2009) (holding that it was allowing loss-of-use damages because “lost profits may be necessary to accomplish fully compensating the claimant for his loss.”); McPherson v. Schlemmer, 749 P.2d 51, 53–54 (1988); Chlopek v. Schmall, 396 N.W.2d 103, 110 (Neb.1986); Roberts v. Pilot Freight Carriers, Inc., 160 S.E.2d 712, 717 (N.C.1968); DTS Tank Serv., Inc. v. Vanderveen, 683 P.2d 1345, 1347 (Okla.1984); J & D Towing, LLC v. Am. Alternative Ins. Corp., 478 S.W.3d 649, 675 (Tex. 2016) (holding that “the owner of personal property that has been totally destroyed may recover loss-of-use damages in addition to the fair market value of the property immediately before the injury.” “A substantial number of jurisdictions hold that the principle of full and fair compensation requires the availability of loss-of-use damages in total-destruction cases just as in partial-destruction cases.”); Checker Leasing, Inc. v. Sorbello, 382 S.E.2d 36, 37–38 & n. 1 (W.Va.1989); Nashban Barrel & Container Co. v. G.G. Parsons Trucking Co., 182 N.W.2d 448, 453–55 (Wis.1971).
Photo by Tristan Bowersox.