If I am suing someone for vandalism to my car, can I sue for the entire amount?

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If I am suing someone for vandalism to my car, can I sue for the entire amount?

2 men got into a physical fight while I was in a hotel; 1 of them was homeless. When I came outside my car suffered scratches and dents as a result. The homeless man was obviously gone, but the other man stayed. We asked him to pay the deductible but he said he doesn’t think he is responsible because it was self defense. Can we sue him for the entire amount (i.e. the deductible as well as the amount my insurance company had to pay out)?

Asked on March 29, 2011 under Accident Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

1) Self-defense does NOT make one not liable to third parties injured or who have suffered losses due to one's conduct; a valid claim of self-defense would prevent his attacker from suing him and winning, and would avoid jail time for assault, but a self-defense claim only applies to those involved in the fight, not third parties. So legally, he may be responsible, if he acted in some way negligently or carelessly, or else intentionally damaged your car (e.g. deliberately slammed the homeless guy into it). However, if this person truly was blameless in that he was not careless and did not intentionally take actions causing damage--or he was not the one who actually did the damage (the homeless man did all the harm)--then he's not at fault. The claim of self-defense doesn't automatically protect him, but you still need to prove fault (intentional act or negligence) and also causation, the same as you would in any case.

2) Moreover, if he won't pay voluntarily, you'd have to sue him to make him pay. Not only would that itself cost money (though not much, if you feel competent and have the time to sue in small claims court, acting as your own lawyer), but you'd have to prove your case, which may be very difficult. For example, you'd have to prove that the scratches and dents were caused by the fight (and were not pre-existing or caused after the fact) and again, that this person in some way actually caused them--not merely that he was in a fight with another person who did the damage.

In short, if you are simply looking for the deductible, given the issues of proof, establishing fault, showing causality, etc., and the cost and time of a lawsuit, it may not be worth taking action.


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