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My rental property was damaged by a fire in a neighboring…

My rental property was...

My rental property was damaged by a fire in a neighboring building. I am facing a few thousand dollars in repairs that will be out of pocket because of my policy's deductible. When I address the neighbor's insurance company, they are saying that they are investigating the cause of the fire and it looks like they are leaning toward denying liability, say ing that the fire may have been due to the negligent act of an individual tenant. My question is aren't they liable and if not why.

Lawyer's Assistant: Because laws vary from place to place, can you tell me what state the property is in?

Yes, it is California

Lawyer's Assistant: Has any paperwork been filed?

I am getting window estimates. My plan is tpo rewplace six boarded up windows to the tune of close to $2000 and hold off on painting and minor floor damage. The windows have been boarded up for three weeks, so that qualifies as an emergency

Lawyer's Assistant: Anything else you want the lawyer to know before I connect you?

No, this is just a specific liability issue. Isn't the neighbor's insurance liable?

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Answered in 12 minutes by:
1/25/2017
socrateaser
socrateaser, Lawyer
Category: Real Estate Law
Satisfied Customers: 40,056
Experience: Attorney and Real Estate broker -- Retired
Verified

Hello,

Hello,

I am a member of the State Bar of California, the Bar of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California (San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside Counties), and the California and National Associations of Realtors.

You asked about an insurer's liability for damage caused to a third party (you) by a fire occurring at an insured's property.

The answer depends on whether or not the fire was entirely accidental (an "Act of God," as the saying goes) -- or as the result of a lack of due care ("negligence") by the insured (your neighbor). If the fire was entirely accidental, then the insurer is not liable for your collateral damage. If the fire was caused by the neighbor's negligence, then the insurer is liable.

However (and this is extremely important), insurance claims representatives are well aware that it is effectively impossible for a non-lawyer to prevail over an insurance company on a negligence claim. Consequently, unless you hire a lawyer to try to settle the matter with the insurer, it is near certain that the insurer will deny liability -- because that will force you to find a lawyer and sue -- or cave in and let it go. And, again, insurance claims representatives know from experience that most non-lawyers will resist at all costs hiring a lawyer who wants a minimum 33% contingency fee to try to extract a settlement from an insurer. It's just human nature -- non-lawyers think that the 33% will come out of their pocket and that no lawyer can possibly be worth the money.

Reality (and, I'm not trying to sell you legal services, so I have no vested interest here) is that a competent personal injury/property damage attorney can get the insurer to pay the 33% -- because the alternative of litigation is typically sever times more than any settlement that can be arranged. This is because the insurer must hire a lawyer to defend, if you sue. Insurance companies don't have in-house litigators who defend -- it's too expensive to maintain that type of legal horsepower.

Bottom line, the claims representative may be "blowing smoke" at you, in the hopes that you will give up and go away. The only way to know for certain is to contact a local property damage attorney and let him/her try to settle the matter for you.

If you need a link to a reputable legal referral service, please let me know and I will be happy to provide further info.

I hope I've answered your question. Please let me know if you require further clarification. And, please provide a positive feedback rating for my answer (click 3, 4 or 5 stars) -- otherwise, I receive nothing for my efforts in your behalf.

Thanks again for using Justanswer!

socrateaser
socrateaser, Lawyer
Category: Real Estate Law
Satisfied Customers: 40,056
Experience: Attorney and Real Estate broker -- Retired
Verified
socrateaser and 87 other Real Estate Law Specialists are ready to help you
Ask your own question now

Hello again,

I see that you rated my service as “3 Stars." My experience is that customers who rate at this level are frequently in need of additional clarification – and I want to ensure that you are completely satisfied. If you require further clarification or assistance with this question, please let me know and I will try to help.

Thanks again for using Justanswer!

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Customer reply replied 1 year ago
what you are saying is that I am faced with hiring an attorney for a relatively small claim. What is the efficacy of that. My legal fees would be trade-off to the additional monies recovered, right.

Lawyers who work on contingency don't charge up-front fees. You pay only if the case is settled or you prevail in court.

But, if your claim does not exceed $10,000, then (assuming you cannot settle on your own) you can sue the insurer in small claims court without a lawyer, and you only risk the filing fee, which is between $50-$75, last time that I checked.

That said, you're correct that the insurer is pretty much counting on the amount being too small for you to seek any legal representation. You have options, they're just not great -- because if they were, the insurer would have already offered a settlement.

Hope this helps clarify things for you. Thanks again for using Justanswer!

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Customer reply replied 1 year ago
I know about small claims. It's a hassle. My question is isn't the neighboring owner and secondly the insurance company liable for the actions of individual tenants when they cause damage to an innocent third party? Thanks for your time.

The neighbor is liable for negligence (assuming it's proved). The insurer is liable to defend the neighbor to the extent of the insurer's policy benefit -- once again, assuming that the neighbor is negligent.

The only way to prove negligence is to conduct an investigation re the cause of the fire (which the fire department will do (or, has done). If the investigation suggests negligence, rather than accident, then the next step is to demand payment from the neighbor -- which requires the insurer to either pay or deny payment. And, if denied, you sue.

That's the way it's always been done. It's straight forward, but there's just no way to do it without hiring a lawyer (other than small claims court).

Anyway, I wish you the best, ***** ***** you can get a satisfactory resolution.

Thanks again for using Justanswer!

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Customer reply replied 1 year ago
At this point it looks like I am facing attorney-time, something I don't relish. But, I'll tell you what. I'll bump you up to four stars for a recommendation of a good property liability attorney in the East Bay. Thanks.

I don't believe that a customer can change a rating once it's been provided. Regardless, I don't have a good recommendation for you. If I did, I would provide it to you without any additional incentive.

The best I can do is to provide you with a State Bar Certified Referral Service:

Alameda County Bar Association LRS
Oakland, CA
Phone:(###) ###-####br />TTY:(###) ###-####/p>

I hope this helps.

Thanks again for using Justanswer!

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Satisfied Customers: 40,056
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DISCLAIMER: Answers from Experts on JustAnswer are not substitutes for the advice of an attorney. JustAnswer is a public forum and questions and responses are not private or confidential or protected by the attorney-client privilege. The Expert above is not your attorney, and the response above is not legal advice. You should not read this response to propose specific action or address specific circumstances, but only to give you a sense of general principles of law that might affect the situation you describe. Application of these general principles to particular circumstances must be done by a lawyer who has spoken with you in confidence, learned all relevant information, and explored various options. Before acting on these general principles, you should hire a lawyer licensed to practice law in the jurisdiction to which your question pertains.

The responses above are from individual Experts, not JustAnswer. The site and services are provided “as is”. To view the verified credential of an Expert, click on the “Verified” symbol in the Expert’s profile. This site is not for emergency questions which should be directed immediately by telephone or in-person to qualified professionals. Please carefully read the Terms of Service (last updated February 8, 2012).

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