Until recently, a homeowner that lost the use of their home due to the negligence of another was limited to seeking the cost of alternate shelter, and could not seek damages for other inconveniences. The recent Appellate Division opinion in Certain Underwriters At Lloyds Subscribing To Policy PLH-013397, as subrogee of Laura Lindsey v. Public Service Electric And Gas, Docket No. A-4128-17T4, ___ N.J. Super. ___ (App. Div. June 17, 2019) expanded the holding of another case discussing loss of property, Camaraza v. Bellavia Buick Corp., 216 N.J. Super. 263 (App. Div. 1987) to include other inconveniences experienced by homeowners that lose the use of their home.
Camaraza dealt with the loss of use of a personal automobile. Specifically, the Defendant was found to have negligently maintained custody of the subject vehicle, which was stolen while awaiting repairs. The Appellate Division determined that it was appropriate to permit a plaintiff to seek other damages for inconvenience and even impairment on the pursuit of recreational activities.
The plaintiffs in Certain Underwriters lost the use of their homes due to a fire caused by downed power lines that required them to seek alternative housing for ten months. PSEG was found liable for the fire at a bifurcated trial, and subsequently moved for summary judgment arguing that the plaintiffs were not damaged beyond the compensation they had received for alternate housing and repairs. The judge granted the motion, and the plaintiffs appealed, arguing they were entitled to pursue claims for the loss of use of their property and other inconveniences. The Appellate Division referenced inconveniences such as difficulty moving oxygen tanks for an elderly woman, the loss of personal items, and a premature birth requiring the child to undergo an extended hospital stay. Another family stayed in temporary accommodations that did not have a kitchen, and were left to rely on fast food chains for most of their meals. The Appellate Division cited the holding in Camaraza, and extended that holding to the homeowner who loses the use of their property due to the negligence of another. The Court noted that the scope of the damages is to be based on a “broader concept of inconvenience,” but did not limit what kinds of damages would be permissible. The Court punted that issue to the trier of fact, stating that the defendant would be free to argue that the claimed damages were “so extravagant as to outrun the bounds of reason.”
Certain Underwriters represents a clear expansion of the damages that may be sought when a homeowner loses the use of their home. Considering that even a diminishment in the enjoyment of recreational pursuits may be put to the jury, the defendant in such an action could be liable for a slew of potentially large expenses. In the case of Certain Underwriters, the plaintiffs were displaced for ten months, and in that time there are countless sources of “inconveniences” that may be apparent, however large or small, that are now recoverable.
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