When personal property is harmed by the wrongdoing of another, the property owner may be entitled to compensation in the form of money damages. A jury will determine the amount of a damage award, though a judge may set aside an excessive or deficient award.
Types of Damages
A victim of property damage may be entitled to the following forms of recovery:
- Compensatory Damages. Compensatory damages are designed to place a victim in the position he or she would be in if the defendant's wrong had never occurred. Compensatory damages include the amount needed to replace or repair the lost or injured property, as well as any costs flowing from the injury (known as consequential damages). Consequential damages may cover the costs of interim replacement property (such as a rental car) as well as any lost profits resulting from the injury.
- Incidental Damages. Incidental damages compensate victims for various expenses incurred as a result of property loss. Incidental damages may include the costs of phone calls, shipping, transportation, etc.
- Punitive Damages. Punitive damages are not awarded to compensate victims for their losses, but rather to punish defendants and deter others from engaging in similar behavior. Punitive damages may not be awarded without compensatory damages and typically cannot exceed ten times the amount of compensatory damages. However, because punitive damages are intended to punish defendants, a jury may consider a defendant's total wealth when calculating a punitive damage award.
Recovery for property damage is typically limited to those costs that are reasonably foreseeable. Liability will not attach if a reasonable person would not expect particular damage to result from a defendant's actions.
Duty to Mitigate Damages
Every person has a duty to use reasonable care to minimize property damage. If a victim can make reasonable efforts to reduce the total amount of harm caused by a defendant, the victim is obligated to do so. A defendant may not be held liable for a victim's failure to mitigate.
Calculating the Value of Property Damage
The amount at which property is valued for purposes of recovery depends on whether the property may be repaired, or whether the property has been destroyed completely. If property may be repaired for a reasonable cost, compensatory damages will cover the costs of repair, as well as any consequential damages suffered in connection with the loss. If the property has been completely destroyed, or if the cost of repair is more than the fair market value of the property, compensatory damages may be limited to the property's fair market value. Fair market value is measured by the value of the property directly before the loss.
Property and automobile insurance may be available to pay some or part of a victim's damage award. Those involved in an accident or other incident resulting in property loss should contact their insurance providers immediately in order to preserve evidence. Insurance companies may choose to settle or litigate a claim for damages on behalf of their clients. An insurance company may also wish to recover its losses by pursuing a claim against a negligent third party.