What is an "injury to property"?

Just as a personal injury is a physical, mental or emotional damage suffered by an individual person, a property injury is a type of damage to property. The property can be real estate, such as land or buildings, or it can be personal property like vehicles, electronic equipment, and clothing. A person who causes an injury to property through negligence or an intentional tort may be liable for damages.

An injury to property can occur in several ways. For instance, a negligent driver who runs a red light and collides with another car may damage the car whether or not he also hurt the person driving it. A person committing an intentional tort may also cause property damage. For example, suppose that a bar patron gets into an argument with another bar patron. The first patron tries to punch the second one, thus committing the intentional tort of assault. However, being drunk, the patron misses his intended target and instead punches a wall, creating a hole. The patron may be liable for the damage to the wall as well as the damage to anyone whom he tried to fight.

Most people who find their property injured by someone else’s negligence or intentional bad behavior may receive compensation for their losses in the form of monetary damages. Property injuries are usually compensatory or actual damages, meaning that they have a set dollar amount that can be proven in court by submitting repair bills, reports from appraisers, and similar documentation.

If a piece of property has a particularly high sentimental value, its owner may try to recover damages for emotional distress or pain and suffering due to its loss as well. The chance of recovering these damages for the injured property is highest when the person who caused the damage acted intentionally and while knowing that damaging that particular item would cause emotional distress for the owner. Usually, however, owners who sue over an injury to property only recover the cost of repairing or replacing the property.

Injury to property should not be confused with premises liability or products liability. Nor should it be confused with intentional torts that deal with property, like trespass or conversion. Property injuries may certainly be caused by any of these three torts, but property injury does not have to occur in order for someone who commits these torts to be held liable for them.

A defendant facing an injury to property claim may assert one or more affirmative defenses to explain his actions. For instance, the defendant may have damaged the property while trying to defend himself, another person, or some article of property. Similarly, the defendant may claim necessity in using or damaging the property in order to avoid a much greater harm to himself or those in his care. While these defenses do not take away the defendant’s liability, they may reduce or eliminate the damages he must pay to the plaintiff whose property was harmed.

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