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Can I go after the faulted driver or registered owner to recover my down payment? Either in civil court or small claims court?

Santa Ana, CA |

I purchased a car 1 month ago and put down a 4500.00 down payment, 2500 was trade in value and 2000 was cash. Recently the car was hit by another driver who was unlicensed. She went through the red light and hit me. She was not the registered owner of the car either. The car was deemed totaled. The 4500 was not part of the financed amount. My Insurance is paying off the amount of the loan -500 which my gap insurance will cover. I am still out my inital down payment of 4500. I have engaged an attorney for bodily injury already but they wont touch the property damage part of it. Can I go after the faulted driver or registered owner to recover my down payment? Either in civil court or small claims court??

Attorney Answers 5


  1. Most attorneys that handle your personal injury case will help the client with the property damage aspect of the case. Speak to your attorney and convince him to help you out.
    At the very least, he should help you fill out the "small claim" forms and to make sure you do not do something that later would have a legal effect on your personal injury case. I am sure your attorney would not want you filling any law suits (small claims or otherwise) without his advise and consent.

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  2. Best bet is sit down with your lawyer and insist the lawyer handles this portion as well.

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  3. The insurance company should pay you the fair market value of the vehicle, less your deductible. If you got a very bad deal on the car (i.e. paid far more than the fair market value), the insurance company still only owes you the fair market value. Try looking the value of the car up on kbb.com or edmunds.com and focus on the private party values. Remember that almost no used car is deemed to be in excellent condition. If they are undervaluing your car by the $4,500, you can sue in small claims court, but will need to bring an expert vehicle appraiser with you to testify as to the value of the vehicle.


  4. I agree with the other attorneys


  5. There are some facts you have not clarified. You said your attorney is filing a lawsuit. Is he suing the car's registered owner?

    If so, this owner owes you for the difference of what you got from your insurance company and what you paid for the car. That $4,500 is your out of pocket loss. You can file a small claims action for that amount and only for property damage. The lawyer will handle your personal injury only. If you expect the lawyer to handle the property damage portion, then you will be covered by the recovery of monies clause of your contract and the lawyer will have to charge you for his services.

    The negotiations for the property loss can sometimes be tedious and time consuming. If you do not want the aggravation, then talk to your lawyer and agree to an amount that you will pay him for his time. If you find a lawyer that will do this job for you for free. Keep him in mind for the future because that lawyer is worth his weight in gold.

    ANOTHER THING YOU CAN DO IS INCLUDE THIS LOSS OF PROPERTY DAMAGE IN THE SETTLEMENT OF YOUR CASE. MOST OFTYEN THAN NOT, YOU WILL RECOVER THIS AMOUNT AFTER YOU PROVE THAT YOU SPENT THAT AMOUNT. YOU NEED Y TO PROVIDE EVIDENCE BY CHECK, OR RECEIPTS OR VALUE OF PROPERTY EXCHANGED.

    I am licensed only in California. This information is good only in California and it is not to be taken as legal advise in any other type of situation.

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