Property damage claims are legal claims that involve damage to one’s property as opposed to one’s person.’ They do not, generally, encompass physical injuries although in some cases, such as auto negligence lawsuits, property damage and personal injuries can be intertwined. There are several types of property damage, the two most common being damage to real property and damage to cars.
Property damage claims very frequently involve insurance companies, either one’s own or that of the person causing damage. The ability to deal and negotiate with insurance companies, adjusters and claims attorneys is an essential part of any property damage case. Finding and hiring an experienced who understands property damage issues can be the difference between being reimbursed for damages or simply being turned away, forced to absorb costs that are better attributed to someone else.
Damage to Real Property
A property damage claim involving real property means that one’s land or home sustained damage. When the local kids hit a baseball through your window, you have sustained damage to real property. When a storm knocks a tree onto your roof, when someone drives over your lawn, when the neighbor’s dog digs up your flower beds…you’ve sustained damage to real property. Damage to real property also encompasses acts of vandalism, such as graffiti, eggings and other pranks. These types of incidents, along with innumerable other examples, can be the basis for both formal and informal property damage claims, regardless of the damager’s intent.
Recovering money subsequent to sustaining damage to real property is usually a multi-step process and varies greatly depending on the circumstances. First and foremost, you need to know whom to recover from. Most acts of vandalism cannot be attributed to a specific person, and weather damage or other types of home damage (a flooded basement from a hot water tank failure, for example) are just freak occurrences that can’t generally be pinned on a specific individual or company. However, recovery is still a possibility because homeowner’s insurance may cover all or part of the damages sustained.
Examples of Real Property Damage and Recovery
If the neighbor’s son knocks a baseball through your window causing a couple of hundred dollars in damage, your first step would be to attempt to get the neighbor to pay for the damage. If the neighbor refuses (and you are not concerned about damaging neighborhood relations), you are within your rights to file suit to recover damages for the broken window. Small claims courts and local district courts are the most common venues for these types of incidents. Small claims cases, which usually have an upper claim limit of a couple of thousand dollars, and district court cases are generally cases involving less than $10,000.00. Lawyers are generally prohibited from participating in small claims matters but can be a valuable resource when preparing the attendant paperwork.
Another example of a common property damage claim is contractor negligence. For example, if you hire a roofing contractor to put on a new roof and their dumpster cracks your stamped concrete driveway, you have a legitimate property damage claim arising from the contractor’s negligence. Assuming that the contractor was insured and their insurance company refuses to reimburse you, you can file a suit in district or circuit court seeking to recover the cost of a new driveway in addition to the costs of bringing the suit. The contractor had a duty not to negligently damage your property; he breached that duty by placing an overfilled dumpster on your expensive driveway, which caused it to crack. You have met the four requirements necessary to recover.
Auto Accident Property Damage
Auto accident property damage can be a bit more complicated depending on the laws of your state. Whether your state is a “fault” or “no-fault” state can dramatically affect how—and how much—you can recover for damage to your car arising from an auto accident.
Property Damage in Fault States
In a “fault” state, you can immediately seek compensation from the person or driver that damaged your car. So if you are in a fender bender that wasn’t your fault, no one was hurt, and your car was totaled, you would be well within your rights to attempt to settle with or sue the other driver or his insurance company. While you may very well have your own auto insurance, “fault” states generally place responsibility on the at-fault party.
Property Damage in No-Fault States
In a “no-fault” state, you would first attempt to recover your damages from your own insurance company. No-fault laws are designed to limit auto negligence litigation, and they do so by requiring every driver to carry their own auto insurance to use in case of an accident. Leaving bodily injuries out of the discussion, generally, the only way you can recover from the at-fault party for vehicle damage in a no-fault state is through mini-tort provisions.
Most no-fault laws have a mini-tort provision limiting the amount one can collect from an at-fault driver in compensation for vehicle damage. The amount usually does not exceed $500.00. Any damage above and beyond the mini-tort threshold would need to be recovered from your own insurance company, pursuant to no-fault laws. As a general proposition, mini-tort payments are paid out with little or no resistance from insurance companies. As long as the damage and attribution of fault are documented, and the mini-tort amount is appropriately requested, you can expect to receive your money. There are exceptions to every rule, however, and no-fault lawyers will be able to assist you in recovering what you are owed.
Insurance and Property Damage
Insurance, or the absence of insurance, is a major factor in nearly every property damage claim. Whether it is homeowner’s insurance, boat insurance, auto insurance or some general umbrella policy, most people are insured against property damage. So the first—and often most important—step in any property damage case is to determine what coverage is available from whom. Lawyers can be extremely helpful in obtaining coverage and policy information from involved parties.
Once the insurance companies are identified, they usually send their own “independent” investigators to assess the damage and place a monetary value on the resolution of your claim. Whether the damage is major or minor and whether it is your insurance company or that of another entity, always assume that they do not want to pay you anything. Insurance companies make money by collecting premiums, not paying claims. If you have sustained major property damage and there is a large amount of money at stake, seek the assistance of an attorney. Professional help can mean the difference between early settlement and having to file a lawsuit to collect.
Once the insurance company has finished its investigation, which can take days or months depending on the claim, they will either pay or deny the claim. Payment does not always mean that you receive the full amount of money necessary to cover your damages, so it is not uncommon for insurance companies and claimants to negotiate a settlement that is acceptable to both sides.
Property Damage Lawsuits and Attorneys
If you are the victim of property damage, it is always in your best interest to retain an attorney to assist with your claim. Regardless of whether you intend to file a lawsuit, a professional, well-informed attorney experienced in property damage matters can mean the difference between recovery and eating a loss. Attorneys speak the same language as insurance adjusters, corporate risk managers, and claims investigators. A good property damage attorney will be able to leverage your situation into an acceptable settlement, and in the absence of a settlement, will be able to take the appropriate legal steps to ensure your right to recovery is protected.