Texas law recognizes several different kinds of property, including real property and personal property. It is personal property that is most likely to become the subject to a personal injury claim. Someone might damage your vehicle in a car accident, for example.
If you suffer loss or damage to your property that someone else caused, consider filing a property damage claim with the appropriate insurance company or court.
The Statute of Limitations
In Texas, you must generally file a property damage lawsuit within two years of the date of the damage. This two-year deadline is the same as the deadline for filing a personal injury claim.
If you miss the deadline for filing a lawsuit, you will have no bargaining leverage in negotiations – and your claim will be effectively dead.
Property Damage vs. Property Destruction
“Property damage” means your property suffered a loss in value. “Property destruction” means the cost of repairs exceeds the property’s market value right before the damage occurred.
If your car was worth $6,500 before an accident, for example, and if it will cost $7,000 to restore it to its pre-accident condition, your car is “totaled.” This designation applies even if you can still drive the car.
Texas Auto Insurance Requirements
The majority of property damage claims arise from auto accidents. In recognition of this reality Texas, like other states, requires every driver with a car registered in Texas to purchase auto accident insurance. The following are the minimum amounts:
- $30,000 per person bodily injury liability insurance;
- $60,000 per accident bodily injury liability insurance; and
- $25,000 in property damage liability insurance.
If a driver damages your car in an accident (assuming they are insured), you can file a third-party claim against their property damage liability insurance policy.
Optional Property Damage Insurance
It’s a good idea to purchase more than the mandatory minimum auto insurance. Some optional forms include:
- Collision insurance covers damage to your car, regardless of who was at fault. If you financed your car, the bank will probably require you to purchase collision insurance.
- Comprehensive coverage covers damage to your car from just about any source, even hail, theft, and vandalism. It does not cover collision damage.
- Uninsured motorist insurance covers damage that arises while the at-fault party lacks insurance or leaves the scene of the accident without identifying themselves (“hit and run”).
If you are particularly worried about your own potential property damage liability, you can also purchase more than the minimum ($25,000) property damage liability insurance.
Negligence is a legal term that means something like “carelessness.” Negligence accounts for most property damage claims. To win a negligence claim, you need to prove that:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care. Almost every mentally competent adult owes everyone else a reasonable, common-sense duty of care to avoid accidents.
- The defendant breached their duty of care. A shop owner might have failed to clear ice out of the parking lot, for example.
- You suffered harm. Perhaps “black ice” caused your truck to slam into the side of a building.
- The defendant’s breach of their duty of care was a foreseeable cause of the harm you suffered.
If the defendant is a business, they are likely to be far better insured than a motorist would be.
Product Liability Claims
Product liability claims generally arise when someone suffers an injury caused by a defective product. Nevertheless, product liability claims are not limited to claims for bodily injury. You can also seek compensation for the loss of the property itself.
Suppose, for example, that an item of factory equipment explodes due to a manufacturing or design defect in the equipment. You can seek compensation for the value of the product under any of the following legal theories:
- Breach of express or implied warranty;
- Breach of contract;
- Negligence; or
- Strict liability.
If you file a strict liability claim, you don’t have to prove the defendant was at fault to win. You can also sue any party in the product’s chain of distribution. This ability might prove critical if, say, the manufacturer was a Chinese company with US distributors but no assets in the US. In that circumstances, you could sue the US distributors.
An intentional tort claim differs from a negligence claim in that, with an intentional tort claim, the defendant damaged your property on purpose. For example, the defendant might have intentionally caused a traffic accident in a fit of “road rage.” Following are descriptions of two types of intentional torts involving property: trespass to chattels and conversion.
Trespass to chattels
A chattel is a tangible item of personal property. Someone commits trespass to chattels when they intentionally (and without your permission) interfere with your exclusive right to use your property. “Borrowing” your property temporarily is an example of trespass to chattels. You can claim compensation for trespass to chattels even if the defendant acted innocently, believing the property to be their own.
The main difference between trespass to chattels and conversion is that trespass to chattels is temporary while conversion is permanent. A defendant can generate a conversion claim by buying stolen property (either wittingly or unwittingly) and selling it to someone else. Another way to generate a conversion claim is to destroy the property.
You Might Need an Experienced San Antonio Personal Injury Attorney for a Substantial Claim
Some property damage claims are trivial. You probably don’t need a lawyer to help you resolve a fender bender claim, for example. The greater the value of your claim, however, the harder the defendant will fight it. The harder the defendant fights, the more you will need a San Antonio personal injury attorney. Contact us at (210) 225-0909 for more information or to schedule a free case review