Property damage cases

If someone’s property has been damaged, that person can sue the one they believe is responsible for the damage. They can ask for the money it will take to repair the damage, or, if it can’t be repaired, for the money it will take to replace the property that was damaged.

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Common types of property damage cases

There are many types of property damage cases. In most cases, someone is suing someone else because they accidentally or intentionally damaged their property. 

  • example: car accident

    You get into a car accident and your car is totaled. It will take over $15,000 to get a car similar to the one you had. You can sue the driver and owner of the car who hit you for the property damage as a result of a motor vehicle accident.

  • example: tree falling on your house

    Your neighbor’s dying tree falls over in a storm and causes a lot of damage to your garage. Your neighbor’s negligence (lack of care) caused and resulted in damage to your property. You may sue the neighbor for the damage. If the neighbor is just a tenant, you may need to sue the owner of the property if they are the ones responsible for the upkeep of the trees.

  • example: vandalism

    You have a dispute with your neighbor. In the middle of the night, they spray paint all over your house and break your windows. You will need to have the house repaired and repainted. It’s going to cost you over $15,000. You may decide to sue your neighbor for intentionally damaging your home.

Sometimes, property damage cases also involve personal injury, which means that a person gets injured physically, mentally, or emotionally. For example, a car accident can result in property damage to the car and personal injury to the person in the car.

If your case is about property damage and personal injury, make sure you check out our personal injury cases page to learn more about that part of the case.

Basics to consider before suing

Deadlines to sue: You generally have to sue within 3 years from the date of the damage (statute of limitations)

If you don't, then the other side can ask the judge to dismiss the case (which means you lose). There are different rules if you're suing the government.

Who to sue: It's not always easy to tell who is responsible for damage

In general, you sue everyone who is or may be responsible for the damage. For example, in a car accident, you would sue the driver who is at fault but if the car is owned by someone else, you may also want to sue the owner because they have some degree of liability.

Or, if your neighbor’s tree damaged your property, you sue the owners of the property and anyone else you think may be responsible for the tree falling. If your neighbors have someone who cares for their trees (an arborist), they may decide to sue them too if they think they didn't properly care for the trees.

Where to sue: Which county should the case be in (venue)

For property damage cases, you generally have to sue where the damage occurred or where the defendant lives or does business. 

Insurance: Check to see if insurance will cover the damage

If you have insurance (like car or homeowner's), talk to your insurance company first and see what they need you to do. It’s possible your insurance company will cover the damage and you don’t have to sue, or can sue only for the amount of your deductible or whatever your insurance will not cover.

If you are responsible for the damage to someone’s property, checking to see if your insurance policy will cover that damage is also a good idea for you. It may be that your insurance company pays and you won’t get sued.

Causes of action: What are the causes of action and what is the proof

A plaintiff needs at least one cause of action to file a lawsuit. A cause of action is the legal reason for the lawsuit and every part (element) in that cause of action has to be proven. The defendant should also be aware of what the plaintiff needs to prove and how they can defend themselves.

Damages: What damages have you suffered and how much to ask for

Decide what damages you have suffered and are going to ask for. This could be as straightforward as the repair bills for the damage. But it could get more complicated if the damage is ongoing and you don’t know the full extent of it. For example, let's say a plumber accidentally broke your pipes causing flooding in your home. At first, it may look like only the flooring needs to be repaired and replaced, but overtime, you realize that the flooding caused mold to grow and you'll need to have that professionally removed.

Proof: What evidence do you have to prove your side

Collect evidence proving your position. If you are the plaintiff, this could be evidence showing the damage, cost of repairing the damage, and who’s responsible for the damage. This might include a police report, photographs, repair bills, proof of payment. If you’re the defendant, it could be proof that you are not responsible for the damage or are only responsible for part of it, or that the damage didn’t happen.  Examples of evidence include pictures, 2-3 estimates for the repair or replacement, witness statements, police reports, insurance claims and investigations.

Forms you can use 

In civil cases, most of the court forms are optional. You can use the optional forms if they work for your case, or you can create your own documents, called “pleadings.” Forms can be easier to use if they are available because they help you know what to ask for.

For the plaintiff

As a plaintiff, you always need a Summons, a Complaint, and at least one cause of action.

If you believe the defendant not only caused the damages but acted in a such a bad way that they should have to pay more money as punishment for their behavior, you can also ask for exemplary damages (damages to make an example of out of the defendant). These can be hard to prove.  You have to show the defendant is guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice under the law. To ask for exemplary damages, you can use Exemplary Damages Attachment (form PLD-PI-001(6))

For the defendant

As the defendant, you have the right to respond to the lawsuit. You must do so within 30 days of being served with the Summons and Complaint. There are several options for how to respond so make sure you read “Options When You are Sued” to learn more.

You can also sue the plaintiff back if you feel like the plaintiff caused you damages as well. Or sue a third party that you think is to blame for the damage, fully or in part.

  • To answer the lawsuit (which is one of your options to respond), you can use ANSWERPersonal Injury, Property Damage, Wrongful Death (form PLD-PI-003) or create your own. You may also be able to use a form called a General Denial (form PLD-050). Read the instructions on that form very carefully to make sure you can use it in your case.
  • To sue the plaintiff back or add a third party to the case because they may be at fault, you can use Cross-ComplaintPersonal Injury, Property Damage, Wrongful Death (form PLD-PI-002)
    • This form includes several causes of actions. Make sure you check and fill out at least one.

Things you may want to talk to a lawyer about

Any side can benefit from consulting a lawyer. But, there are times when it is particularly important to get advice from a lawyer. For example:

Major damage together with personal injury (including unknown long-term injury): The property damage is really significant, or maybe was coupled with personal injury that resulted or could result in disability. Or maybe the extent of the injury and damages are not yet still fully known (like if the property damage can't be fully figured out until more time goes by, or there's also injury to the person that could cause ongoing health problems).

Not clear who is at fault: There is confusion as to who really is at fault or if there are several people who could be at fault.

You could be at fault. You are or could be partially at fault. For example, in an accident someone turned into you, they could be at fault. But, if you were speeding, you may be at fault too.

Defective product.  If you believe the damage was caused by a defective product, you should consult with a lawyer.  Product defect cases are complicated. 

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