Crimes and Civil Torts: Looking at Property Damage

Imagine waking up one morning and looking out your window and noticing that a hit and run driver had crashed into your garage. Such a revelation could prove infuriating since the driver has committed both a crime (actually, several crimes) and may also be held civilly liable for the property damage he has caused. Thankfully, the driver was acting suspiciously when he pulled his damaged car into a gas station and the attendant reported his license plate number to the police. When the police inform you they have a suspect who, in all likelihood, has damaged your garage you may seek criminal and civil actions against him.

The above scenario is obviously a fictitious, illustrative example of one instance of property damage. However, all instances of property damage have a common thread: the property is no longer in the condition it once was before an assailant interfered with it. Specifically, property damage interference includes any method of tampering, defacing, littering, committing mischief, desecrating, or even exposing a property to a noxious substance. It is also important to note any damage inflicted on the property is only a crime/civil tort if it was performed by an individual who has no right to do so. That is, if you own a garage you can damage it in many different ways with impunity. However, you can not do this to your neighbor's garage. After all, it is not your garage and you have no legal ownership rights to it.

When property is damaged it will need to be repaired. For many, this is the reason civil litigation is more important that criminal prosecution. After all, it costs money to repair damaged property and that money should come out of the pocket of the perpetrator and not the injured party. Since those who are guilty of criminal mischief will generally avoid paying for their mistakes it becomes necessary to file a property damage suit. However, there will be those who will attempt to dissuade the injured from filing suit. Often, there will be attempts to coerce the property owner to avoid going to court and settling the matter without any legal proceedings. There really is nothing wrong with such an option provided the negligent party actually pays. If the property owner is being strung along without payment, it is critical that the property owner pay attention to the ticking statute of limitations clock. If this clock expires then the ability to file suit will be lost forever.

The statute of limitations to collect on property damage in Pennsylvania is two years. It would be safe to say that if the negligent party has not paid up within the first few weeks then the ability to collect payment will look doubtful at best. If this is the case then it is critical to file a suit as soon as possible. Waiting too long to file the suit will only aid the negligent party. After all, that is the negligent party's plan in the first place. So, do not fall into such a trap.