What are my rights if my neighbor’s car blew up, caught fire and burned my personal property that was being stored in my attached and adjacent garage?

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What are my rights if my neighbor’s car blew up, caught fire and burned my personal property that was being stored in my attached and adjacent garage?

I supplied photos and an itemized list to his carrier. Subsequently, his claim has been settled, he has a new car but I have received no compensation. He says it was the fault of the car manufacturer and that is who I will have to bring suit against. Does this sound right?

He was carrying comprehensive insurance.

What should have been the normal course of events? Should my damages have been included on his claim?
Will my only recourse be to sue either him, his carrier or Dodge?
Thanks

Asked on November 30, 2015 under Accident Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

He does not have to include your claim with his claim: he's the insured, not you, and has no legal obligation to submit a claim for you. Similarly, his insurer has no obligation to pay you for your damage--their responsibility is to pay their own insured, since he purchased insurance from them. Sometimes, the other person's insurer will voluntarily pay you compensation, but they do that when they think their insured is at fault and that you are likely to sue and win--in those cases, they may choose to pay without going through a lawsuit first, to avoid the cost of defending a suit. But that is their choice to make; they are not required to voluntarily pay the claim of anyone other than their insured.
If you had relevant insurance, like homeowner's insurance, the easiest and best way to get compensation is to file a claim with your own insurer: that's what you have (and pay for) insurance for, after all.
If you don't have insurance, you'd have to sue for the money. Note that only someone at fault in causing the fire/damage would be liable: so if your neighbor caused the fire, by, say, leaving a smoldering cigarrette on his car's floor mat, he could be liable--but if the neighbor did not cause the fire, he is NOT responsible for liable for it. To win the suit, you'd have to prove he caused the fire.
(You don't sue his insurer, by the way: the insurer did not cause the fire and, as stated, does not have a legal obligation to you.)
If you think the fire may have been due to a car defect, you'd sue the manufacturer (Dodge). But again, to win, you'd have to prove this, which would require some kind of engineering or safety expert analysing the fire and the car, coming to an expert opinion as to the cause, and testifyng as to it in court, which can be very expensive--you could easily spend several thousand dollars on an expert, above and beyond the cost of any lawyers. It may not be worth taking legal action in this case, unless it was very expensive things of yours which were destroyed.


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