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What is Property Damage?

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What is Property Damage?

NOTE: Our law firm does not handle Property Damage cases. This article is for informational purposes only. Information found in the article does not constitute as formal legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship.

Two Types of PropertyProperty often gets damaged or destroyed.

Fortunately, the damage to property law provides many legal remedies for collecting compensation against the person responsible for the damage.


Definition of Property Damage

Property damage meaning is defined as harm to real or personal property that occurred due to natural forces or someone’s act or omission.

Damage to property examples can include:

  • Residential property damage, including damage to your home, trees, and driveway
  • Commercial property destruction
  • Damage to your personal property, including vehicles and bicycles

Natural causes of property damage include wind, fire, hail, flooding, and freezing. Types of property damage caused by a person may include intentional acts (such as theft) and negligence (e.g., car accidents).

What Are The Two Types of Property?

There are two main types of property under the law: real property and personal property.

Real property is the land and things permanently attached to it, including buildings, houses, and trees. Personal property, also called chattels, is all other property, such as a car, computer, or photograph.

Both types of property can be damaged or destroyed. Likewise, a person can sue to recover compensation for both types of property damage in New York.

Generally, compensation for property damage is calculated as the lesser of:

  • The change in market value right before and right after the incident that damaged the property; or
  • The cost of restoration or replacement.

See Jenkins v. Etlinger, 55 N.Y. 2d 35, 39 (1982).

For example, assume someone accidentally dents your new refrigerator, which you bought for $1,000. With the scratch, it would now sell for $600. The change in market value is $400. Assume the dent could be repaired for a cost of $200. In this case, the property loss would be valued at $200, the lesser of the two amounts.

Types of Property Damage Claims

There are many legal theories you can use to sue for property damage.


A person may have damaged your property through their negligence, meaning they acted carelessly with regard to your real or personal property.

To prove negligence for property damage, the plaintiff must establish that:

  • The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of exercising reasonable care;
  • The defendant breached that duty;
  • The breach of duty caused the damage; and
  • The value of the property damage.

Assume you hire someone to paint your house. The painter, while moving a ladder, carelessly lets it hit a window and breaks it. It can’t be repaired, but it can be replaced for $150. In this case, the painter owed a duty to exercise reasonable care over the treatment of your house. They breached that duty being careless, and that lack of due care caused the broken window. The cost of the damage is $150.

Trespass to Chattels

With negligence, a person may damage your property by acting carelessly or unintentionally. Trespass to Chattels is an intentional tort. You may have a cause of action under this theory when someone damages your property on purpose.

The elements of Trespass to Chattels are:  “(1) intent, (2) physical interference with (3) possession, resulting in (4) harm.”

For example, say you have a motorcycle parked in your driveway. A vandal comes onto your property and slashes the motorcycle’s tires. The motorcycle was your personal property or “chattel.” You would have a claim against the vandal for trespass to chattels for the damage done to your motorcycle.


ConversionConversion is similar to trespass to chattels. It occurs when the defendant exercises control over the plaintiff’s property.  Conversion may occur when someone permanently takes property from another.

However, the difference often turns on how damaged a piece of property is. If property is partially damaged, an action for trespass to chattels may be appropriate. If a person completely destroys a piece of your property, an action for conversion may be appropriate, since by destroying your property they have exercised final control over it.

For example, using our previous example, conversion would occur if the vandal hotwired and stole your motorcycle. The vandal exercised control over your property and deprived you of its use. The damages would be its market value at the time of the theft.

Trespass to Land

This intentional tort can also be the basis of a property damage claim. Trespass to land happens when someone intentionally enters onto your property.

The elements are (1) intentional (2) entry (3) onto another’s property.  If a person comes on your property and damages it, they can be held liable for damages.

Product Liability

Product LiabilityA product manufacturer may be held liable for selling a defective product that causes property damage.

Assume you buy a new space heater for your living room. Unknown to you, the power plug is defective. You plug it in and go to bed. At night, it explodes and starts a fire. You may be able to recover from the manufacturer the cost of damage to your living room.

Contractual Remedies

You may have causes of action for your property damage based in contract law. The most common examples are insurance contracts. For example, assume you have a prized painting. You enter into an insurance contract to insure the artwork for $100,000.

A thief breaks into your house and steals it. You file a claim with your insurance company. It either pays it or denies your claim. If the company denies your claim, you may be able to sue it for not honoring the claim and obtain a judgment against the insurance company.

Who Pays for Repairs to My Vehicle After a Car Accident in New York City?

Car accidents occur daily in New York City, so it’s no surprise that damaged vehicles are one of the most common types of property damage claims.

In addition to no-fault personal injury protection (PIP) and bodily injury liability coverage, New York requires motorists to carry liability insurance to provide compensation for damage to property. The minimum limit is $10,000 for property damage liability protection. This coverage applies when a claim is made against you by a third party alleging that you caused damage to their property.

If you’re involved in a car accident in Manhattan, and your vehicle is damaged due to someone else’s negligence, you have a couple of options. If you can prove that the other party was at fault for the accident, you can make a claim against their insurance to cover your property damage. If the liability insurance doesn’t fully cover your damages or the at-fault driver is uninsured, you may bring a lawsuit against the negligent driver.

Whether you decide to bring a lawsuit against the negligent driver or a claim against their insurer, it’s best to consult a lawyer to ensure that your legal rights are protected. A car accident lawyer will be well-versed in how to sue someone for property damage caused in an accident and how to prove someone damaged your property.

What is My Property Damage Claim Worth?

Your compensation in a property damage claim will depend on the facts and circumstances of your situation.

Factors that may affect the value of your claim include:

  • What was damaged (e.g., your home, your vehicle)
  • The type of property damage you suffered
  • The severity of your property damage
  • The insurance coverage available for your claim, if any
  • Your level of fault, if any

Your damages may include the cost to repair your property or the item’s fair market value if it’s stolen or damaged beyond repair.

If you suffered property damage to your home, business, or vehicle, you should speak with a lawyer familiar with property damage law. They will be able to maximize your damages to ensure that you’re fully compensated for your loss.

Statute of Limitations For Property Damage Claims

New York has a three-year filing deadline for most lawsuits seeking the repair or replacement of real or personal property. The statute of limitation begins running the day the property damage occurs.

If you miss the deadline, some situations extend the time limit when the defendant:

  • Is outside the State of New York when the property damage occurs;
  • The defendant leaves the state and is continuously absent for four or more months;
  • Lives in the state under a false name unknown to the plaintiff; or
  • Is a minor or has been declared legally incompetent.

There are many details and exceptions to these extensions.


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