Can I file a lawsuit against a neighbor’s homeowner’s insurance company regarding my losses?

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Can I file a lawsuit against a neighbor’s homeowner’s insurance company regarding my losses?

My neighbor’s house, that is attached to our house, had a fire and my house sustained smoke damage as a result. Since then the insurer has underestimated the values of the cost of damaged personal property and damage to my house. Based on estimates from multiple contractors, the damage is estimated close to 60k. The insurance company has so far paid 25k towards repairs and 10k towards personal property. We are working with a public adjuster so he has his take from the amount paid out. If the insurance does not cover the entire cost of rebuild/replace, can I file a lawsuit against my neighbor’s policy for the difference and any punitive damages?

Asked on July 28, 2017 under Real Estate Law, Pennsylvania

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

You cannot file a lawsuit against the neighbor's insurance: their insurance is *their* insurance and does not owe any duty or obligation to you; rather, their only obligation is to defend in court and/or pay any court judgments against them, or (if the insurer voluntarily chooses) to settle the case ahead of time.
You would have to sue the neighbor him/herself in court--again, you have to sue the neighbor, not his insurer; his insurer pays for him IF you win. But to win, you would have to prove the neighbor was *at fault* in causing the fire--that he is,  that he caused the fire through unreasonable carelessness, like smoking in bed or leaving a pot cooking unattended on the stove. If the neighbor was not at fault, he is not responsible for your loss and you will not get any money.
Note that even if the neighbor did cause the fire through carelessness, you could only get compensation for your costs or losses, to the extent not paid by your insurance; you cannot get "punitive damages" in a case involving carelessness.


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