Few things are more important to most people than their homes. A home provides more than physical comfort; it also provides emotional and financial support, and many consider it one of their most important assets. If your home or other property is damaged, you might find yourself at a loss for where to begin with repairs and recovery. Securing a full recovery for the damage often involves a complicated analysis of your insurance policy and tense conversations with your insurance provider. It is not uncommon for insurance providers to attempt to settle a claim for less than the homeowner deserves, requiring you to contest the amount with the insurance provider and potentially proceed to trial. If you or a loved one has suffered damage to your property in New York and are struggling to secure the recovery you deserve, contact the experienced New York Property Damage Lawyers at Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman today.
Causes of Property Damage in New York
Property damage is physical damage to tangible property. Many things can cause property damage, but some are more common or more detrimental than others. Property damage causes to keep an eye out for include:
- Natural causes like earthquakes, hurricanes, hail, wind, storms, landslides, fire, mold, frozen pipes
- Construction defects such as foundation cracks, water leak, faulty workmanship
- Human error including failure to repair property issues
Based on data compiled by the Insurance Information Institute, the most costly insurance claims are from damage caused by fire and lightning. While not the costliest, the most common claims were those related to wind and hail and water damage and freezing. Many homeowners will be forced to pursue a homeowner insurance claim at some point during home ownership based on the following statistics:
- Approximately one in 20 insured homes has a claim each year
- About one in 40 insured homes has a wind or hail related claim each year
- An estimated one in 50 insured homes has a claim caused by water damage or freezing each year
Property in New York is susceptible to these most common causes, especially given the inclement weather New York faces in the winter months.
Who is Responsible for Damage to My New York Property?
Whether a third party is responsible for damage to your property depends on how the damage was caused and can include:
- Trespasser: If your property is damaged because of the intentional or negligent act of a trespasser (or in some situations, an invited visitor), they are responsible for the damage they have caused.
- Contractor or subcontractor: If you are having work performed on your house by a contractor or subcontractor, they are expected to provide quality workmanship. If they provide substandard work quality that causes either immediate damage or future damage, the worker is responsible for their poor workmanship.
- Local government: If the damage was caused by the failure of a local government or agency to maintain government property, they are responsible for the resulting damage. For example, if your house is located next to a government-owned greenbelt, the government is responsible for ensuring trees are safely maintained to avoid damaging property. In 2019, New York City received 7,176 property damage claims, and the city paid out $7.5 million in property damage settlements. The majority of these claims related to motor vehicles but also included water main breaks and sewer overflows.
- Insurance company: If there is no third party responsible for the damage, your insurance provider is responsible for any damage covered by your insurance policy. This is the most common path to recovery after damage caused by a natural event.
An experienced property damage attorney will work with you to assess the facts surrounding the damage to your property and determine the responsible party.
What Should I Do Once I Discover Damage to My New York Property?
The appropriate steps after discovering property damage will depend on how the damage was caused. No matter the cause of the damage, you should take immediate steps to prevent further damage. Property owners have a duty to mitigate damages, meaning that you must make reasonable efforts to stop incurring further damage. For example, if you have a burst pipe, you should contact a plumber as soon as possible rather than waiting for the responsible party to get involved. Once you have taken the necessary steps to prevent further damage, assess the cost of the damage. This includes the cost to repair damaged physical structures and to replace personal property that was destroyed. This analysis is much easier if you have kept a home inventory detailing your possessions. Almost half of all households, however, do not keep such an inventory. Your lawyer can work with you to determine whether depreciation needs to be considered for any property. If you have documents supporting your valuation of personal property, this will be valuable evidence for your claim. Once you have taken any necessary steps to prevent further damage:
- File a report with the city. If the property damage was the fault of the city, file a report. Many city’s documents are available online. For example, New York City’s form is available here.
- File an insurance claim. If there is not a third party responsible for the damage, file a claim with your homeowner’s insurance provider.
- Pursue legal action against the responsible party. If a trespasser, contractor, or other third party caused the property damage, you may need to take legal action to secure recovery.
Be sure not to delay seeking recovery. New York requires that any claim for recovery after property damage be brought within three years. While this may seem like a long time, it will pass quickly as you manage repairs, evaluation of losses, valuation, filing a claim, and disputing a proposed settlement.
What if My Insurance Rejects by New York Property Damage Claim?
In a perfect world, the responsible party or your insurer will agree with your assessment of damage and take timely and efficient action to fix your property and reimburse you for any out-of-pocket damages. Unfortunately, this is not often the case. Whether you are pursuing recovery from the government, a third party, or your insurer, the odds are high that they will either reject your claim or dispute the damages. For claims against a third party or the city, strong evidence supporting the other party’s liability and documentation of all the costs of repair and replacement are essential to securing the highest possible recovery. For recovery through an insurer, the first step is to read and understand your insurance policy. The type of coverage available will depend on your policy, and there are different policies for privately owned homes and commercial property. The purpose of homeowner’s insurance is to provide financial relief if a covered event damages your home, other covered structure, or personal property. Common coverage in homeowner’s insurance policies include:
- Damage to your house: The policy will include a maximum amount you can recover for damage to the house and attached structures like a porch
- Other structures: If you have other structures like a shed or detached garage, this coverage will apply to repair or replace those structures
- Personal property: Personal property includes the contents of the house. Personal property is often damaged in incidents like a water leak.
- Additional living expenses: If you are forced to seek alternative living arrangements because of the property damage, this coverage applies.
- Comprehensive personal liability: Personal liability coverage is relevant when a third party brings a claim based on activity at your property.
- Medical expenses: Medical expense coverage normally limits coverage for each person in an accident.
Unless the property damage caused injuries, the first four categories above are most relevant as you seek recovery for property damage. In addition to the premium you pay for your policy, most policies include a deductible which is the amount you are required to pay before assistance from the insurer kicks in. For example, if you have a $1,000 deductible but repairs cost $10,000, you will be required to pay the initial $1,000 with the insurer covering the remaining $9,000. Deductibles are often represented as a percentage of cost rather than a flat amount. New York ranks 15th for highest average homeowner’s insurance premium. Many homeowner’s policies explicitly exclude coverage for:
- Flooding including drain and sewer backup
- Earthquakes, landslides, and sinkholes
- Infestations by birds or vermin
- Infestation by fungus or mold
- Wear and tear or neglect
- Nuclear hazard
- Government action including war
- Power failure
Review any additional insurance coverage you have with your lawyer, including flood insurance, earthquake insurance, or an umbrella insurance policy. If your area is prone to any of these types of hazards, consider purchasing additional insurance coverage. Your primary communication will be with the insurance adjuster assigned to assess the damage. Disputes will first be addressed with the adjuster but will need to be escalated if there is no resolution. It is all too common for insurers to attempt to undercut policy owners to protect their bottom line. New York Insurance Law prohibits insurers from engaging in unfair claim settlement practices, which includes:
- Knowingly misrepresenting to claimants pertinent facts or policy provisions relating to coverages at issue;
- Failing to acknowledge with reasonable promptness pertinent communications as to claims arising under its policies;
- Failing to adopt and implement reasonable standards for the prompt investigating of claims arising under its policies;
- Not attempting in good faith to effectuate prompt, fair, and equitable settlements of claims submitted in cases of reasonably clear liability, and after receiving a properly executed proof of loss, the insurer shall advise the claimant of acceptance or denial of the claim within thirty working days;
- Compelling policyholders to institute suits to recover amounts due under its policies by offering substantially less than the amounts ultimately recovered in suits brought by them; and
- Artificially deflating or otherwise lowering cost data used for adjusted claims or using cost data that is not appropriate for the region of the state where the loss occurred.
A violation of the unfair settlement practices can result in a monetary penalty against the insurer. This does not, however, help you secure the recovery you deserve. Your lawyer can analyze the actions and communications of the insurance provider to determine if they have failed to live up to their good faith responsibilities. To pursue recovery for a violation of the insurance provider’s duties, you must bring a breach of contract claim against the insurer. Recovery for these claims is limited to consequential damages that were reasonably foreseeable at the time the policy was issued.
Work With an Experienced New York Property Damage Attorney
If you can’t secure the recovery you deserve for property damage—either from a responsible third party or from your insurer—a lawyer will be a critical partner in securing the recovery you deserve. A property damage lawyer will help you:
- Determine which party or parties are responsible for the damage;
- Assess the monetary scope of the damages;
- File any claims or lawsuits for recovery;
- Analyze your homeowner’s insurance policy;
- Communicate with the insurance provider or defendant;
- Prepare and file legal documents; and
- Advise on any settlement offers
The team at Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman is committed to personal service and accessibility. We understand that communication is key to an effective lawyer and client relationship, so each client receives the personal cell phone number and attorney of the attorney they are working with. Our firm has earned top distinctions and awards including Lawyers of Distinction, Super Lawyers, and America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators. We keep our focus on victims and never represent insurance companies, but we have a well-known reputation in the insurance industry. If you or someone you know is struggling to secure the recovery they deserve for property damage in New York, contact Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman today at 833-552-7274 or through our website to schedule a free case consultation.
Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 1250 Waters Place, Tower 1, Suite 502 Bronx, NY 10461 (718)550-3471