Potential damages in a lawsuit may come in many forms depending on the facts of the case. Common damages include medical expenses, loss of earnings, property loss, physical pain, and mental suffering. Of the many damages Plaintiffs may claim, one of the most prevalent and recognizable is property damage. This article briefly discusses these types of damages which fall under two major categories – Real Property and Personal Property.
Broadly speaking, “real property” means land, and “personal property” refers to all other objects or rights that may be owned. Ballentine’s Law Dictionary defines “real property” as: “Such things as are permanent, fixed, and immovable; lands, tenements, and hereditaments of all kinds, which are not annexed to the person or cannot be moved from the place in which they subsist. . . .” (Ballentine’s Law Dict. (3d ed. 2010).) “Personal property” is defined as: “Money, goods, and movable chattels . . . . All objects and rights which are capable of ownership except freehold estates in land, and incorporeal hereditaments issuing thereout, or exercisable within the same.” (Id. (emphasis added).)
Real property may be damaged or “harmed” through trespass, permanent nuisance, or other tortious conduct. The general rule is that Plaintiffs may recover the lesser of the two following losses: (1) the decrease in the real property’s fair market value; or (2) the cost to repair the damage and restore the real property to its pre-trespass condition plus the value of any lost use. (Kelly v. CB&I Constructors, Inc.) However, an exception to this general rule may be made if a Plaintiff has a personal reason to restore the real property to its former condition, sometimes called the “personal reason” exception. In such cases, a Plaintiff may recover the restoration costs even if the costs are greater than the decrease in the real property’s value, though the restoration cost must still be “reasonable” in light of the value of the real property before the injury and the actual damage sustained.