Home > Blog

Legal Definition and Examples of Property Damage

The items you own are valuable. Hence, you have legal rights against an individual who damages them. You can seek compensation from an individual or entity that negligently or intentionally destroys or damages your property. 

It is essential to know your legal options after you experience property damage. This guide sheds light on how and when property damage occurs and how to reclaim funds to repair or replace the damaged items. 

Understanding Property Damage

Property damage occurs when someone destroys or damages your property. Such damaged property loses part of its monetary value and functionality due to the injury it sustains. 

It is essential to add that property damage differs from bodily injury. The latter pertains to humans, while property damage entails items. However, the same incident often causes property damage and bodily injury. For instance, a vehicle crash could damage your car and injure you physically. 

Types of Property Susceptible to Damage

Any property is susceptible to damage. But for the sake of organization, we can broadly categorize property damage into two:

Real Property: It refers to land and anything permanently attached to it. Examples of real property include the parcel you built your house on, your in-ground swimming pool, the structure sitting on your land, and trees on your lot.

Personal Property: It entails all other property. Specifically, anything you take with you when moving homes is personal property. It includes your electronic devices, clothing, jewelry, and vehicles. Another name for personal property is “chattel.” 

These two categories can sustain property damage through natural occurrences like earthquakes or human actions. 

The Kinds of Property Damage That Can Happen

As stated in the preceding paragraph, natural occurrences can trigger property damage. It can also occur due to artificial actions. You enjoy legal doctrines that empower you to claim compensation when an individual or company is behind your property damage. 

This section highlights some kinds of legal claims for property damage:


It is the most typical cause of property damage. If someone carelessly damages your property due to negligence, you can pursue a tort claim against them to recover compensation. However, you must prove the following three points for your case to be successful:

  • The acts or omissions of the individual or entity that injured your property were beneath the accepted care standard. That is, the defendant owed you a responsibility to behave with a given level of care but failed to fulfill that responsibility 
  • The violation of the responsibility of care damaged your property
  • You incurred losses because of the property damage, which you can legally receive compensation for

For example, you can claim property damage against a speeding motorist who crashes into a car. You must prove that the other motorist's negligence entitles you to compensation. You must prove that a logically careful motorist would not have been speeding and that the speeding directly caused the crash and property damage. 

Trespass to Land or Chattels

This trespass happens when an individual intentionally interferes with your property. It is a trespass to land if they intentionally interfere with real property, while it is a trespass to chattels if it happens to personal property. For instance, it is trespassing to chattel for your roommate to take your car without your permission and drive it all day. 

You need to prove the following four points to win a trespass to land or chattels claim:

  • You had the right to possess or own the property
  • The accused willingly interfered with the property or entered your land without your consent
  • The defendant deprived you of the possession or use of the property due to the interference
  • This deprivation harmed you

Unlike negligence, you must prove the defendant behaved knowingly and willfully to interfere with your property instead of a mere mistake to win this tort. 


This property damage type is similar to trespass to chattels. However, conversion is more severe. 

In conversion cases, the accused must have interfered so severely with your property rights that they need to pay for the total value of the affected property. For instance, it is a conversion for your roommate to take your vehicle and sell it without your consent. 

Some factors the court considers to determine if a case falls under conversion or trespass include:

  • The duration the accused unduly exercised control over your property
  • Whether the accused intended to deprive you of possession of your property
  • Whether the accused acted in good or bad faith
  • What injury, if any, happened due to the conversion or trespassing, including any inconvenience from the accused’s actions

Your Rights When Someone or a Company Damages Your Property

You can recover compensation from an individual or firm that damages your property in numerous ways. We will discuss two possible approaches in this segment. 

Make a Claim with Your Insurer

You probably have insurance for numerous kinds of property you possess. For instance, you likely have homeowner’s insurance if you have a house and car insurance if you have a vehicle. 

Under some circumstances, you can recover compensation from your insurance firm if property damage happens, even if another person is guilty. Hence, you could file a claim with your insurance if your homeowner's insurance policy covers vandalism and vandals caused damage to your home. 

Institute a Claim against the At-Fault Party 

Also, you can pursue a claim against the individual or firm that damaged your property. For instance, you can pursue a claim against a driver responsible for an accident that damaged your car. 

When making a property damage claim, you will mainly deal with the at-fault party's insurance company. If the at-fault party has property damage liability insurance, their insurer will pay out funds to repair or replace your damaged car up to policy limits. 

How to Determine the Worth of Your Property Damage Claim

The essence of a property damage claim is to “make you whole” for the losses you experienced from another person’s negligence. For instance, if another motorist damages your car, you should get compensation for the value of your vehicle at the time of the accident. But if your insurer is catering to the property damage claim, they should compensate you for the repairs or replacement and remove the deductible, if there is any. 

The severity of the property damage, available insurance coverage, the guilty party, your share of the blame, and state laws will determine the compensation amount you will end up with. 

Typically, you will receive funds to fix your damaged but repairable property. Also, you might be entitled to compensation for the depreciation of your property if the damage significantly affects it over time. 

However, if your damaged property is not repairable, the responsible insurer will pay you the amount it was worth during the incident. It might mean receiving less money than the amount to buy a similar new item. But if you make a claim with your insurer and have replacement value coverage instead of market value coverage, you should receive enough compensation to replace the damaged item. 

The Duration You Have to Make a Property Damage Claim

It will help if you quickly act when you experience property damage because you have limited time to claim compensation. A statute of limitations applies in most states. This statute sets the time frame you have to make a claim for compensation from someone who damaged your property. 

Depending on your state, the statute of limitations is often between two and four years. 

Do You Need a Legal Expert for a Property Damage Claim?

There is no gainsaying that property damage claims are complex and complicated, especially if they involve precious items or if the claim also entails personal injury losses. “You need the expertise and guidance of an attorney to pursue your case. It will increase your chances of getting maximum compensation for your damaged property.” says Attorney Rustin Smith of Smith Hulsey Law

More to Read: