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How To Sue For Property Damages

Updated May 10th 2022

3 min read

How you will proceed with a suit for property damage begins with thinking about how much damage you have. Suppose someone's negligence has destroyed your house and its contents. In that case, you will want to hire an attorney and go through settlement negotiations and, if necessary, litigation to recover damages on...

How To Sue For Property Damages

How To Sue For Property Damages

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Judith V

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How you will proceed with a suit for property damage begins with thinking about how much damage you have. Suppose someone's negligence has destroyed your house and its contents. In that case, you will want to hire an attorney and go through settlement negotiations and, if necessary, litigation to recover damages on that scale. On the other hand, you can sue in small claims court for small amounts. The precise amount will depend on your state, with upper limits ranging from $2,500 to $25,000.

Property damage is a civil wrong or tort that can arise from negligence or be intentional.

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Suing for Property Damages in Small Claims Court

There are two potential claims for property damage in your case: negligence and intentional damage.

Negligent Property Damage

To be eligible to recover property damages from someone else's negligence, you must allege and prove that:

  • The individual causing the damage owed you a duty of care
  • The individual failed to act with reasonable care and thereby breached that duty through their conduct
  • The breach caused your damages and
  • Financial compensation will make you whole.

If you can prove all of this, plus the extent of the damages, you should receive a money judgment from the judge. Remember, you have to prove the costs, or you won't get an award.

Intentional Property Damage

If someone damages your property on purpose, the case becomes slightly different. You now have what is called an intentional tort. You must prove that the person intended to act the way that person acted and cause harm to your property. You will also need to prove the amount of your damages.

Intentional property damage, again depending on the amount and on the plaintiff's capacity to pay, may make more sense in civil court because you may be able to seek punitive or exemplary damages. These damages are usually not available in small claims court.

Using a Lawyer Instead

Building and proving a negligence case can be challenging, particularly for a non-lawyer. So, regardless of how high the small claims money limit is in your state, if you have damages that will make a material difference to your lifestyle, you should at least consult with an attorney. Most tort lawyers will engage in an initial case evaluation and consultation on your case at no cost to you. And, generally, if they do take your case, they will take it on a contingency fee basis. In a contingency fee case, you do not pay any attorneys' fees until your lawyer concludes your case in your favor, whether by settlement or award. The attorney will receive a pre-designated percentage of your award at that point. If your claim does not end in your favor, you will not owe any attorneys' fees.

Your attorney will do much the same things you would have done in small claims court, except probably more thoroughly and professionally. You can expect to be asked to provide documentation of all the financial claims and may have to testify in your case.

One crucial difference is that you can seek punitive or exemplary damages in civil court rather than in small claims court. Usually, to recover these damages, the defendant's conduct has to be so outrageous that it shocks the court's conscience. This is not an easy standard to meet, but if it appears your case might, you should consider seeking them.

Get Dispute to file your small claims case online today. Win back the money you deserve.

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