In law, there are two primary types of property: real property and personal property. Real property consists of land and things permanently attached to it, like buildings, trees, and in-ground swimming pools.
Personal property, also called chattels, includes all other property. Personal property is typically movable. Examples include a car, smartphone, or painting.
The law has many remedies available for compensating the owner for damage to their real or personal property.
How is Property Loss Measured?
Both real and personal property can be damaged, destroyed, or stolen. A person who suffers the loss of property is often interested in how much it is worth, both for purposes of insurance or if they sue the person responsible for the damage.
Under Florida law, the value of the damaged property is the lesser of:
- The cost of repair, replacement, or restoration of the property; or
- The diminution in market value, meaning the difference in market value right before the damage and the value immediately afterward.
For example, assume you buy a new couch for $1200. Your neighbor visits with their dog, and the dog chews off part of the upholstery on one cushion. As damaged, the couch is now worth $700. You find someone to repair upholstery for $200. In this case, the property loss would be valued at $200. This is the cost to repair the couch, which is less than the diminution in market value ($500).
Exception – Sentimental Value
There may be an exception to this general rule for property that has sentimental value. This is not uncommon with items that have special personal value like a parent’s watch or a cherished jewelry collection that has been handed down for generations.
To prove sentimental value, a person must demonstrate that:
- Their property had special personal value; and
- That sentimental worth had no quantifiable market value; or
- Limiting compensation to the market value would be manifestly unfair.
Legal Claims for Property Damage
If your property is damaged by another, there are many legal theories available to sue for property damage.
If a person engages in careless behavior that damages your property, you may have a claim for negligence.
To prove negligence, a plaintiff must establish that:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a reasonable duty of care
- The defendant breached that duty
- The breach caused the plaintiff harm
- The plaintiff suffered damages
Negligence is the most common legal theory for personal injury claims arising from car accidents, which often cause serious property damage.
Trespass to Chattels
Trespass to chattels occurs when a person intentionally damages another person’s personal property. A plaintiff must prove that the defendant intended to physically interfere with the plaintiff’s possession of the property, resulting in damage. Importantly, the plaintiff must not have given the defendant consent to interrupt the plaintiff’s possession of the property.
For example, assume you just bought a brand new truck. You park it overnight, and sometime early in the morning, vandals slashed the tires. The truck is your “chattel,” or personal property. You may have a claim against the vandals for trespass to chattels for the damage done to your vehicle. They intended to damage your property and prevent you from using it.
Conversion and Theft
Conversion is similar to trespass to chattels. It occurs when the defendant exercises control over another person’s personal property – in simplified terms, it’s like theft.
As in the example above, you own a new truck. This time, the vandals steal the truck, and you never see it again. You may have a claim for property damage based on conversion. Alternatively, say they set fire to your truck, totaling it. This, too, would be conversion because they exercised ultimate control over your property by destroying it
Trespass to Land
Trespass is an intentional act that can also lead to property damage. The elements are (1) intentional (2) entry (3) onto the property of another. The person entering your property can be held liable for damages they cause to your land when they trespass..
Property Damage and Insurance
You may have contractual remedies for damage done to your real or personal property. These are often based on insurance.
Real Property- Valued Policy Law
Florida has a specific law, Florida Statute § 627.702, that may cover the total loss of any building, structure, mobile home, or manufactured building. It is called the Valued Policy Law.
The law states that in the event of a covered loss of one of aforementioned structures:
“The insurer’s liability under the policy for such total loss . . . shall be in the amount of money for which such property was insured as specified in the policy.”
The rationale behind the policy is to avoid the time and effort spent contesting the property’s actual value.
The statute has many exceptions and has created much confusion in the law. Consider consulting an experienced property law attorney if you have any questions.
Personal Property – Car Accidents
The most commonly damaged personal property is no doubt motor vehicles. Most states require drivers to carry a minimum amount of liability insurance to cover property damage and other expenses after a wreck. Florida is a no-fault insurance state.
In Florida, if your vehicle is damaged in a car accident, you must seek compensation through your own insurer for repairs or replacement costs. This rule is meant to resolve auto insurance claims quickly—parties do not have to prove who was at fault for an accident.
Experienced Help is Available
If you’ve suffered the damage or loss of valuable property, our dedicated attorneys will explore all available legal options and help you file a claim or lawsuit to be compensated for your loss.