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What is Property Damage?

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What is Property Damage?

What is Property Damage?Property often gets damaged or destroyed. Fortunately, the law provides many legal remedies for collecting compensation against the person responsible for the damage.

The Law Offices of Jay S. Knispel, LLC are here to help victims of property damage. Contact our NYC law office to get started today. Your first case evaluation is free.

Two Types of Property

Two Types of PropertyThere 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.

Legal Claims for Property Damage

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

Negligence

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.

Conversion

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.

Statute of Limitations

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.

We’re Here to Help

When someone damages your property, our experienced lawyers can help you. The law, especially product liability and insurance contract law, is complicated, so don’t go it alone.