Property damage claims often, but not always, accompany personal injury claims. Most accidents result in both property damage and some sort of injury, and the two claims are handled together as part of the personal injury claim. But either way, you deserve compensation for your losses.
Keep reading to learn all about property damage and how it might affect your claim.
The Statute of Limitations for Property Damage Claims
The statute of limitations is a state law that sets a deadline by which you must either
file a property damage lawsuit, finalize a settlement, or forever hold your peace. In New York, you have three years to resolve a property damage claim. This coincides with the deadline for filing a personal injury claim.
These deadlines vary from state to state.
Property Damage Arising From a Car Accident
Car accident claims and wrongful death claims are the most common cases where personal injury claims and property damage claims coincide. Minimum mandatory auto liability insurance for property damage is $10,000 per accident. Unfortunately, this amount is not even enough to replace a late-model car. This $10,000 limit increases to the local standard if you are involved in an accident in a state where the minimum property damage liability is higher than in New York.
Steps to Take in a Property Damage Claim
You have two options to resolve a property damage claim—-settlement or litigation. Since most plaintiffs and defendants prefer to resolve claims out of court, try settling your claim before filing a lawsuit. This means identifying the defendant’s insurance policy, filing a third-party claim for property damage, and attempting to negotiate a settlement. If negotiations fail, start preparing for a lawsuit while keeping your mind open to the possibility of a last-minute settlement.
Observe the following negotiating tips, especially when you are dealing with an insurance adjuster:
- Never give a recorded statement.
- Hire a lawyer as soon as possible.
- Direct all communications to your lawyer.
- Don’t talk about your case on social media, and don’t upload any photos relating to your accident.
- Don’t sign any documents without the approval of your lawyer.
- Don’t accept a check from the opposing party unless it is enough to cover all of your losses. Once you cash a check, the other side can claim that your claim is finally settled.
Strictly follow your lawyer’s advice because they are on the same side you are.
Resolving Your Claim Through a Lawsuit
Resolving your property damage claim through a lawsuit means taking the following steps:
- Determine which court has jurisdiction over your claim. This court usually sits in a county where either party lives or the county where the property damage occurred. You can file a claim in Small Claims Court for up to $10,000. You must resolve any greater amount in the regular court system, where the rules are not simplified to accommodate people representing themselves.
- Prepare the complaint and the summons. Have a lawyer prepare the complaint for you if you are not using Small Claims Court.
- Submit the complaint and summons to the court and pay the filing fee.
- Serve the defendant with the summons and a copy of the complaint. You cannot do this yourself–you have to use a third party authorized by the court. You also have to follow strict rules set by the court. The purpose of these rules is to avoid conflict between the parties (especially violence) during the process of serving the court papers.
- Take note of all court dates, and show up for court. There may be a pretrial conference, for example, and various hearings.
- File any motions you need to (your lawyer can help you with this) and respond to any motions filed by the opposing party. An example of this is a motion to suppress evidence.
- Complete the pretrial discovery process to gather evidence from the defendant. The defendant can demand evidence from you too. You will need to prove that your property was damaged and that the other party was responsible for damaging it. You will also have to prove the economic value of the property before and after the damage.
- Prepare your evidence and arguments before the trial.
- Keep trying to settle the case. You might even recruit the services of a third-party mediator.
- Present your case at trial. This is when a lawyer is most useful. The jury will decide whether the defendant is responsible for your losses and what they have to pay.
You can appeal the judgment if you are dissatisfied and you have grounds for an appeal.
If Your Claim is Too Large for Small Claims Court, You Almost Certainly Need a Lawyer
You might also need a lawyer if your case includes a personal injury claim. Remember, it’s not just whether you win or lose–it’s how much you win. If a lawyer can triple or quadruple the amount you take home, they will be well worth their legal fee. Many injury attorneys will accept a contingency fee arrangement where their fee equals a certain percentage of the amount they win for you.