Can I sue for remainder of my car payments if a person hit and totaled my parked car?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Can I sue for remainder of my car payments if a person hit and totaled my parked car?

My parked car was totaled and they are found at fault. The guilty party’s insurance is paying off my car loan but the value is less then debt on car leaving me to owe $1500 and now without a car or means to get a car. I drive my disabled aunt and work and need a car. Can I sue for what is not paid by insurance?

Asked on February 16, 2019 under Accident Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

No, you can't. The law does not use the cost you paid or the amount you still owe on a car as the measure of what you are entitled to: it uses the value of the car. If you received an amount at least equal to the then-current fair market value of car (it's "blue book" value) as of when it was totalled, that is all you are entitled to; you cannot sue anyone for more money. (If you didn't get this full value, however, you should be able to sue for the shortfall.)
You can see why the law uses value, not cost or amount owed, by considering the following: say that a parent buys a car for his/her child, or  a spouse gets a car in a divorce, where the other spouse had paid for the vehicle. In these cases, the car's owner has not paid anything for the car. If the law used cost or amount owed as the benchmark for compensation, the child or ex-spouse would get nothing if their car were totalled, since they paid nothing for it and owe nothing on it. Clearly, that is not a result society or the law wants. 
Cost or amount owed varies so much--did you strike a good deal or a bad one? Did you pay cash up front or finance? Did you have a trade-in? Did you buy during a President's Day sale or year-end clearance? Was the car a gift? Etc.--that it can't be used as the measure: it is too variable, too inconsistent, and too subject to being manipulated. So value, not cost or amount owed, is used.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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