What kind of attorney do I need if someone damaged my property or building?

The type of lawyer you need for property damage will depend upon the amount of damage. Following are general recommendations when to represent yourself or hire a lawyer for property damage:

  1. Property damage less than $5,000 – sue in Small Claims Court.
  2. Property damage less than $25,000 – represent yourself in a higher court.
  3. Property damage more than $25,000 – represent yourself or hire a general practice lawyer.
  4. Property damage more than $100,000 – hire a personal injury lawyer.
  5. Collision damage to your car or motorcycle when you are also injured – hire a car accident lawyer or a motorcycle accident lawyer.

Property Damage Less Than $5,000

If the damage is very minor, you will need to represent yourself in Small Claims Court because the cost of hiring a lawyer will be more than your damage. In New York, you can sue in Small Claims Court for up to $5,000.

Where Do I Have to File a Lawsuit in Small Claims Court?

You will have to file a lawsuit in the county where the defendant resides.

Court TV Shows

When you file suit in Small Claims Court, you will probably be contacted by court TV shows and have the opportunity to resolve your claim on one of the court TV shows. If you don’t mind appearing on TV, there are significant benefits to resolving your claim on one of the court TV shows. Both the plaintiff and the defendant have to agree to resolve the claim on a court TV show.

Both the plaintiff and the defendant will be paid an appearance fee and travel will be paid for you. If the plaintiff wins, the plaintiff will be immediately paid by the court TV show and the defendant will not have to pay anything.

Property Damage More Than $5,000

If the damage is more than $5,000, you can still file suit yourself in Small Claims Court but you will not be able to get a judgment or collect more than $5,000.

If you need to get a judgment for more than $5,000, you can either file suit yourself in the next higher court or hire a lawyer.

What Are the Limits I Can Sue For?

Nassau District Court handles civil lawsuits seeking monetary damages up to $15,000. If your claim will be above that amount, you will need to file suit in New York Supreme Court.

Suffolk District Court handles civil lawsuits seeking monetary damages up to $15,000. If your claim will be above that amount, you will need to file suit in New York Supreme Court.

New York City Civil Court handles civil lawsuits seeking monetary jurisdiction up to $50,000.00. If your claim will be above that amount, you will need to file suit in New York Supreme Court.

New York Supreme Court in every county handles civil lawsuits seeking monetary jurisdiction up to any amount.

Tip when representing yourself: go to the court clerk’s office and ask for the Pro Se clerk (pronounced pro say). The Pro Se clerk helps people without a lawyer. Pro Se is a Latin phrase meaning “for yourself.”

Where Do I Have to File a Lawsuit for Property Damage?

In the higher courts, you can usually file a lawsuit in either the county where the plaintiff or defendant resides.

When Does It Make Sense to Hire a Lawyer for Property Damage?

When you have property damage in the approximate range of $25,000 to $100,000, it could make sense to hire a general practice lawyer.

General practice lawyers typically charge an hourly rate not a contingency fee but may offer you a combination of an upfront fee plus a contingency fee. A contingency fee is paid at the end of a case and only if successful.

A general practice lawyer will likely charge $1,500 to $5,000 upfront. This is an initial retainer and you will be requested to advance more money when the money you advanced is used up.

Legal fees for a general practice lawyer will likely reach $10,000 or above.

When You Have Property Damage of More Than $100,000

When you have property damage of more than $100,000, you may be able to hire a personal injury lawyer. We may be interested in representing clients for property damage when the amount of the damage is $150,000 or more and the case is in New York.

Personal injury lawyers are used to taking cases on contingency so you only pay if the case is successful but the property damage needs to be substantial.

When Will We Represent You for Property Damage?

We may be interested in representing clients for only property damage without an injury when the amount of the damage is $150,000 or more and the case is in New York.

We will represent clients for property damage when the property damage was caused by an accident in New York and is in addition to your injury. However, many other personal injury lawyers will not take a property damage case even when representing the client for personal injury.

For instance, if you were injured in a motorcycle accident in New York, your motorcycle was totaled, and you did not have collision damage coverage, we will represent you for the damage to your motorcycle when we represent you for your injury. See how our personal injury legal fee on contingency works.

Usually, in a car accident, people have collision damage coverage and you will not need a lawyer. But if you did not have collision damage coverage for your car, we will represent you for collision damage if you were also injured.

Personal injury lawyers frequently include property damage claims in personal injury lawsuits so a personal injury lawyer is the type of lawyer you want for a property damage case.

Tip: Before hiring a personal injury lawyer for property damage, find out if you have insurance coverage, which can pay the claim, on your own insurance policy. If you have enough insurance coverage on your own insurance policy, you can save the legal fee a lawyer will charge.

Tip: If you are claiming against your own insurance policy but you are disputing the amount of the damage, you can use a public adjuster who is not a lawyer and usually charges only 10%. If you are making a claim against someone else’s insurance policy, you will probably need a lawyer because a lawsuit will likely need to be filed.

Are There Lawyers Who Specialize in Property Damage?

Lawyers do not specialize in property damage because there are very few cases involving enough damage to property to make it worthwhile to pay for the time to litigate the case.

When Do I Need an Attorney for Property Damage?

  • You do not have insurance coverage on your own policy which can pay the claim.
  • You do not have enough insurance coverage on your own policy which can pay the claim.
  • When your insurance company doesn’t pay your claim.

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How Much Must a Property Damage Claim Be Worth for a Lawyer to Represent Me?

That depends on the personal injury lawyer if you’re looking for a lawyer on contingency. The amount of damage you would need to interest a personal injury lawyer would also depend on how it happened and if an expert would need to be hired.

We are interested in looking at claims when your property damage is at least $25,000. We will give you a free consultation.

For smaller claims, you can look for a general practice lawyer who you can pay by the hour but it will likely cost you several thousand dollars.

What Types of Property Damage Are Valuable Enough for a Personal Injury Lawyer?

  • Damage to a building
  • Damage to land
  • Damage to an expensive car

Damage to a Building

When a construction company was dynamiting and caused a crack from the foundation to the roof of a nearby building causing over $175,000 worth of damage, that was enough to take the case on contingency and pay for an expert to testify.

This photo shows the damage created when a dump truck crashed into the side of a building damaging a dental office.
dump truck crashed into the side of a building causing substantial damage

Flood Damage to a Store

We successfully represented an electronics store that had $250,000 of TVs, stereos, surround sound equipment, and other electronics in a basement that were damaged when a pipe burst and caused a flood in the basement.

Damage to an Expensive Car

We successfully represented the owner of a $90,000 BMW which had $28,000 damage in a car accident when it was parked. Since the car was parked, our client wasn’t injured. Our client owned about 10 expensive cars such as Porsche, Ferrari, and Rolls Royce so he decided to self insure and saved $25,000 a year in the cost of collision coverage. Since he didn’t have collision coverage and the insurance company of the car which hit his BMW wasn’t paying for the damage, he hired us.

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Attorney Franckel is a well-known personal injury lawyer, Founding Partner of 1-800-HURT-911® New York, and a former Member Board of Directors of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association. He has an Avvo Top 10  Rating, Avvo Client’s Choice Award with all 5-star reviews, Avvo Top Contributor Award, Multi-Million Dollar Trial Lawyers Award, and other awards. See Mr. Franckel’s bio for areas of expertise.

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Philip L. Franckel, Esq. is one of the HURT911® Dream Team™ Founding Partners at 1-800-HURT-911® New York; He has a 10 Avvo rating; Avvo Client’s Choice with all 5-star reviews; Avvo Top Contributor; and a former Member of the Board of Directors of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association.

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