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in Mid-2015, a single car fire aboard a container ship did an unbelievable amount of damage to all the other cars on board.  There is a fascinating article about it at Jalopnik.com.

Wow, what a mess, literally, figuratively, legally, and emotionally, and monetarily.  This many cars and so many peoples lives changed and disappointed.  As catastrophic as this ship’s fire seems, it actually happens every day.  Thousands of vehicles are crashed, totally and/or repaired every day.  And while it doesn’t happen in a singular incident, if you look at it in the aggregate, it certainly adds up to the same catastrophe.  Forrest law handles property damages for automobiles every day.  We see (to some extent) the aggregate effects of the massive destruction of property.

This lawsuit, like many lawsuits, is there to figure out how to make people or companies whole when losses like this occur.  Many times there is insurance to pay, but insurance companies don’t like to hurt their bottom line – which claims payouts do – so many times litigation is required to simply establish justice and even have a shot at making someone whole.  The companies and individuals have rights – but I’d like to look at this from an equity perspective. 

The thing that I noted in the ships bill of lading was not just automakers cars, but also the 221 personally owned cars that were being transported.  These individuals likely do not have the legal backing and brass that BMW or Daimler has, yet have the same interest to be made whole for their loss.  So…let’s talk about some losses that are real, but likely not apparent from the values presented in this article.  Under the common law, the owners of those vehicles should recover for all losses that flow from this fire.  Put another way, how has the vehicle owner’s life changed had the fire not occurred vs. it having occurred. 

Normally the owners would have simply picked up their vehicles at the destination.  Instead, what did those owners do when they heard of their losses.  Probably, they called their insurance company or the shipper’s insurance company to file a claim.  Next, they needed a rental or substitute vehicle.  But the insurance company may not have a similar rental to all those BMW’s on that boat – and they likely don’t.  So you are left with a non-comparable vehicle.  Not fair, nor just, nor equitable.  Then you likely have a debate about how much the car is worth and often times the amount that is “proposed” as its value is not the actual value to replace the car. 

Now the owner has to get quotes and spend time pushing back on low offers that don’t put the car back in the driveway of the owner.  Then the owner has to pay tax.  Then title, then transportation costs to get it back to the owners home (from wherever it was coming from).  Then if the individuals cannot come to an agreement on the amount (which often happens) the owner has to pay for a lawyer to fight an insurance company in court. Then, if you are successful in court you lost the use of that money for the 2 (or so) years it took to receive justice.   Moral of the story, the losses are not only the value of the car.  They are the value of the car, plus tax, title, registration, transportation, legal fees and costs, and all the time and inconvenience that was lost to the owner, and interest.  To make someone truly whole, the losses of this wreck and any crash are must more than the value of the car.

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