Property Damage

From the latest toy to a new car, everyone enjoys their favorite property. The drawback to property ownership is that it can be lost, stolen, or damaged.

Fortunately, Florida law provides many legal remedies for compensation for property damage.

There are two types of property:

  1. Real property. This is land and things that are permanently attached to it, like a house.
  2. Personal property, also referred to as “chattels.” This type includes all other kinds of property, such as a car, dishwasher, or computer.

Often the type of property is important for choosing the right legal remedy for seeking compensation.

How Does Florida Law Calculate Property Value?

Before the costs of lost, stolen, or damaged property can be recouped, it has to be assigned a value. This is necessary for an insurance claim or a lawsuit against the responsible party.

Under Florida law, property is assessed a value that is the lesser of:

  • The repair, replacement, or restoration cost of the property; or
  • The reduction in market value. This equals the difference in market value right before the damage and the value immediately afterward.

Assume you bought a new truck for $45,000. Your son-in-law borrows it, gets it dirty, and then washes and details it for you. However, in the process, he used too strong of a cleaning abrasive and severely scratched the exterior.

The value of the truck with the scratches is $40,000, and it costs $2,000 to repaint it. In this case, the value of the property damage would be $2,000, which is less than the $5,000 reduction in market value of the vehicle.

While the general rule works well in assessing value, there are two exceptions: sentimental value and stigma value.

Is Sentimental Value Part of My Property Damage Claim?

Sometimes property has personal value to someone that far exceeds its market value. This is called sentimental value. 

For example, perhaps a father passed away and left his watch to his son. While the watch isn’t worth much, it has high sentimental value to the son. 

The law may value the watch at its sentimental value if the son can prove that the watch is: 1) special to him and 2) limiting the assessment to its market value would be manifestly unfair.

What is Stigma Value?

Another exception occurs when something unsavory happens to property. For example, perhaps a homeowner wants to sell their house, but it’s common knowledge that the houses in the subdivision have faulty drywall. 

In this case, the owner may seek the repair costs and the reduction in market value associated with the stigma of the defective drywall. However, the law of stigma value damages in Florida is complex, and consulting an experienced property law attorney is recommended.

Recovering Compensation for Property Damage

Once you estimate the value of your damaged property, you then need to determine the best legal theory for seeking compensation for damaged property. These theories include statutory theft, conversion, trespass, negligence, and Florida’s Valued Policy Law.

Statutory Theft

Florida law provides a civil remedy for the theft of property.

If a person can prove by clear and convincing evidence that a thief stole their property, the victim may seek the following damages:

  • Three times the actual damages, or $200, whichever is greater; 
  • Reasonable attorney’s fees; and
  • Court costs in the trial and appellate courts.

If the thief is a minor, damages may be recovered from the parents or guardian.

Conversion

This is similar to theft. Conversion is defined as the “exercise of wrongful dominion or control over property to the detriment of the rights of the actual owner.” If someone takes a person’s bike and sells it, that is conversion.

Trespass

This occurs when a person deliberately enters another person’s property. The trespasser can be held responsible for damages associated with the trespass. For example, if two people destroy a gate to enter a property, they can be held liable for damages to the gate.

Negligence

Sometimes the loss, theft, or damage to property is due to unreasonable conduct by the at-fault person (the defendant). This is called negligence.

To prove it, the victim must establish these four elements:

  • The defendant owes the victim a duty of care.
  • The defendant breaches this duty by acting unreasonably under the circumstances.
  • The breach causes damage to the victim’s property.
  • The value of the damaged property can be assessed.

Negligence is a very common legal basis for recovering property damage when the damage was due to the defendant’s unreasonable conduct instead of a deliberate act. For instance, after a car accident in South Florida, your vehicle might need be badly damaged. If someone else caused the crash, they should be liable for the cost of replacing the vehicle or repairing it.

Valued Policy Law

Florida has a special law pertaining to insurance coverage of specified structures.

This law, at Florida Statute § 627.702, provides:

“In the event of the total loss of any building, structure, mobile home, … or manufactured building … insured by any insurer as to a covered peril, … the insurer’s liability under the policy for such total loss, if caused by a covered peril, shall be in the amount of money for which such property was so insured as specified in the policy and for which a premium has been charged and paid.”

The rationale behind this law is to avoid protracted litigation over the value of the structure and simply requires the insurer to reimburse the insured for the property’s insured amount.

No one likes it when their property is lost, stolen, or damaged. If you’ve experienced property damage as a result of an accident in Boca Raton, FL, call Hollander Law Firm, P.A. Our personal injury lawyers can help you seek economic damages to compensate for your losses.