Articles Posted in Property Damage

Broken glass       The saying goes that “kids will do the darnedest things,” and sometimes—especially with mischievous teens—this can include things like spray-painting walls, breaking windows and mailboxes, damaging electronics, or keying cars.  Besides being potential crimes, such activities may cause damage to property that is difficult and expensive to repair.   In Alabama, this type of activity can expose the parents and guardians of the minor children who caused the damage to legal liability for the cost of repairing or replacing any damaged property.

       Generally speaking, parents are not legally responsible for acts committed by their minor children, unless the parents were themselves somehow involved in causing the incident, such as when parents negligently entrust something like a car or firearm to a young person who is not responsible enough to handle it safely.  However, if a minor child conducts certain intentional acts, such as vandalism or graffiti, his or her parents will be financially responsible for any resulting damage.   Under Alabama’s Parental Responsibility Act, Alabama Code § 6-5-380, parents can be held legally liable for up to $1,000 in property damage caused by their child, plus legal fees and court costs.  This law applies not only to parents, but to any relative, legal guardian, or other adult who has care or control of the minor and with whom the child lives.  The law does not apply to foster parents and foster children, however.

       The Parental Responsibility Act applies to any property damage caused by the intentional, willful, or malicious acts of a minor child who is under 18 years of age.  It covers “real property” such as homes or buildings, and “personal property” such as automobiles, computers, or personal effects.  The law applies regardless of whether or not the property is owned by an individual person, a business, a private organization, a government entity (such as a school or municipal building), or even the State of Alabama itself.  Under the Act, the victim is entitled to compensation—from the child’s adult parent or guardian—for up to $1,000 worth of property damage plus the costs of bringing the action against the minor child and their parent or guardian.  The child, however, may be personally responsible for any other damage beyond the $1,000 covered under the Parental Responsibility Act, and if the parent or guardian directly contributed to the incident, such as negligently entrusting a car to the minor, then the adult’s legal liability would not be capped by the Act, either.

According to Alabama Code § 32-5A-350, it is against the law to use a cellular telephone or other similar device to send or receive text based communications, including text messages, instant or direct messages, pictures, and electronic mail while operating a motor vehicle on a public road, street, or highway.  The penalty is $25.00 for a first violation, $50.00 for a second violation, and $75.00 for a third or subsequent violation.

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Violation of the statute can be the primary or sole reason for being stopped by a law enforcement officer.  This means that a law enforcement officer can stop a motorist for texting and driving without witnessing any other moving violation. If someone is texting and driving, an officer can stop that driver and issue a ticket, even if the driver is following all of the other rules of the road at the time.

Although texting is illegal, the statue allows the user of a device to “read, select, or enter” a telephone number in a device for the purpose of making a call while driving.  The statute also allows for the sending and receiving of messages with voice operated devices when driving an automobile. Continue reading

In Alabama, the measure of damages for personal property is the difference between the reasonable market value of the property immediately before it was damaged and its reasonable market value immediately after it was damaged.  In cases where an automobile is damaged but is not a total loss, the cost of repair is considered when determining the difference in market value.  In addition to the cost of repair, any diminution or decrease in value of the automobile resulting from the damage will be considered. When the damage to the vehicle is merely cosmetic or the vehicle is older, there may not be any diminution in value after appropriate repairs are completed.  In cases of newer model cars with substantial damage, the claim for diminution in value can be significant.

Alabama courts have ruled that an owner of property is qualified to state his or her opinion as to value of property before and after injury. Chambers v. Burgess, 281 So.2d 643 (1972); Parker v. Muse, 250 So.2d 688 (1971).  However, in many cases, it is beneficial to use experts to assess the diminution in value to a vehicle.   Experts can be particularly helpful when assessing the impact of damages to antique, classic or exotic automobiles.    Other states utilize a statutory formula using a base loss value, damage modifiers (severe, moderate or minor) and the vehicle’s mileage to assess the diminution in value.

Alabama does not have any laws that designate the type of replacement parts that must be used when repairing a damaged vehicle.  As long as the replacement parts are similar in fit and quality as the damaged parts, used parts or aftermarket parts may be used to complete repairs. Continue reading