Just as you can file a claim for monetary damages against someone who injures you through misconduct, you can also file a claim against someone who damages or destroys your property.
In fact, personal injury claims and property damage claims often go together, and you can resolve them in the same settlement or lawsuit. Car accidents generate most personal injury and property damage claims.
Proving Your Ownership of the Property
To win a property damage claim, you must first prove that you own the item in question.
There are several ways that you might prove ownership, depending on the type of property you own:
- Legal title. This applies mainly to real estate and motor vehicles.
- Online registration: You can register certain devices online, such as mobile phones.
- The serial numbers of certain items can prove ownership.
- Photographs: A photograph of you in possession of the property can help prove you own it.
- Packaging and associated documentation. This applies to a laptop computer, for example.
- A receipt or invoice.
Talk to your lawyer about other ways to prove your ownership of property.
Proving the Defendant’s Liability for Property Damage
In most cases, you would rely on one of the two legal theories to establish the defendant’s liability for the damage to your property-–negligence or trespass to chattels. These are not the only theories of liability that might apply to a property damage claim, but they account for the great majority.
Negligence is the most common basis for a property damage claim. You must prove four elements to win a negligence claim:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care. Every adult has a duty to act with reasonable care to avoid an accident.
- The defendant breached their duty of care. They might have run a red light, for example.
- You suffered a loss-–damage to or destruction of your property.
- The defendant’s breach of duty caused your loss.
You will win your claim if you prove all four of the above-listed elements on a “more likely than not” basis, also referred to as “by a preponderance of the evidence.”
Trespass to Chattels
Trespass to chattels is a legal term that applies when someone intentionally damages your property. That might mean slashing your tires in a parking lot, causing an accident in a “road rage” incident, or some other intentional act that damages your property.
To win a trespass to chattels claim, you must prove that the defendant intentionally and physically interfered with the possession of your property, resulting in harm.
The Value of Your Property Damage Claim
You measure the value of a property damage claim in one of two ways:
- The diminution in the fair market value (FMV) of the property; or
- The cost to replace, repair, or restore the property to its condition before the property damage occurred.
The lesser of the two values described above is the value of your property damage claim.
Florida’s No-Fault Insurance Rules
Even though Florida is a no-fault auto insurance state, when it comes to property damage, Florida drivers must carry at least $10,000 in liability insurance. If you suffer personal injury and property damage in a road accident, you must look to your own Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance to compensate you for your physical injuries.
When it comes to your property damage, however, PIP is useless. Instead, you must file a third-party property damage claim against the at-fault driver’s property damage liability insurance.
The Statute of Limitations Deadline
The Florida statute of limitations for property damage is four years, the same as for most personal injury claims. If you miss the four-year deadline to file a lawsuit, you will probably find yourself unable to take your claim to court. Without the threat of a lawsuit, the at-fault party will have no motivation to bargain with you.
You can extend the four-year statute of limitations deadline under the following circumstances:
- The defendant left Florida during the four-year statute of limitations period;
- The defendant hid to prevent the state from serving them with the lawsuit papers that would kick off the lawsuit; or
- You are under 18, or a court has declared you legally incompetent.
Think of the statute of limitations period as a clock starting at four years but counting down to zero. If any of the above-listed scenarios apply to your claim, the clock stops ticking until the circumstance doesn’t apply (the defendant returns to Florida, for example).
A Fort Walton Beach Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help
If you believe you might have a viable property damage claim, you should know that your odds of getting fair compensation increase dramatically when you hire a lawyer.
If your claim is combined with a personal injury claim, you can seek a Fort Walton Beach personal injury attorney who will probably have experience resolving both kinds of claims.