4/23/2019Florida Appeal Court Denies Relief To Upside Down Yaris Owner
Man who crashed a Yaris responsible only for its market value, not the remaining loan value, the Florida Court of Appeal ruled.
A woman whose Toyota Yaris was totaled by an ex-boyfriend is now stuck paying off the upside down car loan, the Florida Court of Appeal ruled Monday. A divided three-judge panel ruled that Amy Schoenfeld would essentially profit if her loan were paid off by Mark Anthony Tolbert Jr, the man responsible stealing and then wrecking the car following a drunken 100 MPH police chase.
On April 3, 2016, Tolbert took the blue 2013 Yaris without permission and, while drunk, launched the car into a ditch on on Thomas Road in Jacksonville. Duval County prosecutors charged Tolbert with driving under the influence, reckless driving and felony eluding. He was sentenced to three years in jail and fined $2100.
The only dispute in the case was how Tolbert should compensate Schoenfeld for destroying the Yaris that she had bought used from a local Toyota dealer with her father three years ago. As of the date of the accident, she still owed $14,695 on the car loan, which was about as much as she originally paid for the vehicle -- despite making three years' worth of payments. Schoenfeld's insurance company paid part of her claim, leaving her stuck with a balance of $11,892, and no car.
"The interest rate on this loan was highway robbery," Schoenfeld explained to the court. "I needed a vehicle. The only way I could get it with my credit was to have my father cosign, and the interest rate was 14 percent."
Although the average fair market value of a Yaris at the time of the trial was found to be $6100, Duval County Judge Angela M. Cox ordered Tolbert to pay $11,892 in restitution. The lower court found the fair market value is usually, but not always, sufficient to make a victim whole. In this instance, she ruled, requiring Tolbert to pay the full loan amount would not be forcing him to pay more than the damage that he caused.
The appellate court did not see it that way. Judge Thomas D. Winokur pointed out that recompense after an accident should not be a "windfall" for the victim.
"Even if Tolbert had not destroyed the vehicle, Schoenfeld would still be obligated to pay off the loan," Judge Winokur wrote for the majority. "While it may seem unfair that Schoenfeld owes money on a vehicle she no longer possesses, the balance is a product of Schoenfeld's financial decision. Tolbert's responsibility lies as far as his damage to the vehicle. In this case, that amount is reflected by the vehicle's fair market value."
Judge Scott D. Makar in a dissenting opinion argued that Schoenfeld is not made whole by the decision of his colleagues.
"Theoretically, an exact replica of her Yaris might be available at the lowest estimate of fair market value," Judge Makar wrote. "But how would purchasing it, months or years later when -- if ever -- Tolbert actually pays restitution, account for the loss of use and continued payment on the loan in the interim? ...If some adjustment is not allowed for victims with upside-down car loans, then full restitution becomes somewhat illusory and would be regressive in its impact on those struggling economically."
Tolbert was released from the Duval County Jail on April 3 after served a full three years behind bars. A copy of the ruling is available in a 100k PDF file at the source link below.