What to do if Your Property Was Damaged from Civil Unrest, Riots, or Vandalism

Legal Article

What to do if Your Property Was Damaged from Civil Unrest, Riots, or Vandalism

When large scale civil unrest such as rioting, vandalism, or looting occurs, personal and commercial property owners are justifiably concerned. Furthermore, as even the most peaceful protests can sometimes morph into large scale destruction of personal property, it is important that property owners and businesses near protests understand what to do if a protest damages or destroys their property.

Property owners commonly worry about what happens after and who pays for building damage, loss of income from this or nearby damage, or stolen goods. Though these are valid concerns, one must first understand the language that insurance companies commonly use when discussing damage occurring from civil unrest, the different types of damage that insurance policies commonly cover, other entities that may pay for the damage besides insurance companies, how to properly file a claim for damage occurring from a riot, and what to expect as you move through this process.

Insurance Terminology

Though other entities may have to pay for damage occurring from riots, insurance companies will normally cover the majority of the cost to rebuild or replace property and items. While insurance companies in the United States typically have to shell out between $50 – $75 million per year on insurance claims resulting from a form of civil unrest, most insurance policies do not define what they consider to be civil unrest, riot, or vandalism.

Thus, the best way to understand this important terminology is to look at the legal definition of these acts. First, civil unrest refers to a revolt by a large gathering of people. The legal definition of a riot occurs when individuals act together to commit or even threaten to commit violent acts against other people or their property. Civil unrest is simply a larger scale form of a riot. Because the definitions of these two terms are so close, they are commonly interchanged and used together when damage from a group of people does occur. Finally, vandalism occurs when someone intentionally destroys or damages another person’s property.

By understanding exactly what these terms mean, you will easily be able to consider which type of event occurred near your property and find the subsequent options that your insurance policy offers you. This is especially important as when large scale property damage occurs, submitting your insurance claim quickly and correctly is essential to getting your home repaired or business reopened.

What Kind of Property Damage Occurs from Riots

When discussing damage occurring from civil unrest, riots, or vandalism, it is important to note that there are two different kinds of damage that occur—Physical property damage and loss of income or extra expenses. Each type of damage is normally discussed under different portions of the insurance policy and unless you have a commercial insurance policy, you will not have the loss of income and extra expense clause. However, homeowner policies will normally include a loss of use clause that will not be in a commercial insurance policy.

Physical Property Damage

Physical property damage is easily defined as it refers to damage done to property or the items and materials located on the property. For example, if you own a ground floor retail space and a form of civil unrest or riot occurs outside of your business, the exterior glass may be broken or the storefront may have been damaged. Additionally, after damaging the outside of your property, people may have gone into your store and damaged the walls, furniture, merchandise, or other appliances. Finally, in the most severe circumstances, your building may have been completely leveled or destroyed by fire.


Commercial insurance policies typically cover physical property damage occurring from riots, civil unrest, and vandalism under both named perils and “all-risk” policies. If looking under the named peril, you will have to locate the name of the damage in this portion of the policy and then ensure that the damage you incurred falls under this umbrella. All risk policies on the other hand will cover any damage you incur as long as the cause of the damage is not specifically excluded from the policy. Furthermore, different physical property damages may be covered under different portions of an insurance policy. For example, building damage may be under a specific clause while the personal property that was damaged or destroyed


A homeowner’s insurance policy will also typically cover physical property damage resulting from civil unrest, riots, or vandalism. For example, if a window is broken from someone throwing a rock, it will likely be covered the same way as if hail broke the window instead. Additionally, if rioters steal some of your personal property such as a television or other electronics, this would be covered under the theft portion of your policy. While these damages can be recovered, it is important to check your actual policy to see if you will get a total reimbursement to fix or replace property and goods or if you are only eligible to receive a partial recovery of the costs.

Damage to Cars

Damage to cars is a specific kind of property damage that is especially common in instances of large-scale civil unrest, riots, and vandalism. In most cases, automobiles are covered under the optional portion of an auto policy. This portion of the policy will commonly allow the owners of the vehicle to receive compensation for damages from fire, falling objects, vandalism, or rioting.

Loss of Income and Extra Expense

In many cases, if civil unrest, riots, and vandalism occur throughout a city, businesses will lose income for a period of time. For example, if people break glass, damage the inside of a store, or steal products, it will take time for the business to repair these damages and buy the necessary products to open back up. Thus, during this time period, a business will not be able to make income from this particular store front. This is especially dangerous for small businesses or restaurants.

Additionally, if a business had to cover extra expenses such as overnight shipping, this expense would be covered under this portion of the insurance. Even a business that did not suffer significant physical damage could utilize loss of income insurance. For example, if a business across the block burned down and has structural damage, the police or fire department may close down the block to prevent further damage. This is called civil authority coverage. Yet to be covered under this portion of an insurance clause, the premises must be blocked by a civil authority.

One important note to understand is that business income coverage does not start immediately. Thus, if your business lost income due to civil unrest, riots, or vandalism, you will normally have to wait 72 hours before filing your claim. Thus, if your business closes for ten days due to the damages, you will only be able to receive loss of income insurance for seven days.  

In homeowner’s insurance policies, loss of use is similar to loss of income. Under loss of use, if your home suffers substantial damage and you can no longer stay at the property, your insurance policy will typically help cover the cost of meals and lodging while you wait for your home to be repaired.

After a Riot, Who Pays for The Damage

After damage occurs to property from civil unrest, riots, or vandalism, those who’s property receives damage may ask who will pay for these damages. In most cases, there are four common types of entities that will pay for damage occurring from riots.

Insurance Companies

Insurance companies are the first entity people turn to when civil unrest, riots, or vandalism damages their property. In most cases, insurance companies will cover the damages that property owners incur from these incidents. Most insurance policies will not only cover the property owners’ real property. However, these insurance policies will also cover damages to cars, fencing, or other objects that sustain damage on the property. Additionally, those injured on someone’s property during these events will also likely be able to seek compensation from the insurance company of the property owner.

However, especially in commercial insurance policies, insurance companies may not pay for damages from civil unrest, riots, or vandalism. For example, certain businesses may not have included a theft clause in their insurance policy. Furthermore, certain policies may even include exceptions for what type of damages they will cover if civil unrest occurs. Finally, other insurance policies may have extremely high deductibles. Thus, it may be close to impossible for property owners to fully repair the damage.


If property damage occurs from civil unrest, riots, and vandalism, many people will look to receive some compensation from the people who actually inflicted the damages. However, even if your business or home has high-resolution surveillance cameras, recovering damages from rioters is extremely difficult. The reason for this is that most people who partake in large scale civil unrest, riots, or vandalism do so because they feel disenfranchised. Typically, this feeling occurs in those that have a financial disadvantage. Thus, even if you identify the person creating the damage, it is unlikely that you will be able to recover any meaningful amount of money.

However, if you do decide to pursue the rioters for monetary damages, there are a few steps you should take. Once you have the video footage, you should immediately contact law enforcement. Let the law enforcement know what the person did and provide them with the footage that supports your claim. If the evidence you provide to the police is enough for them to pursue charges, you will be titled to restitution.

A second option that you could take is to pursue a personal civil lawsuit. The type of suit and damages you would attempt to recover depends on multiple factors. First, did someone sustain a personal injury in the event. Second, what is the value in property or goods that were damaged or stolen. Third, what is the type of harm suffered. Finally, how much potential business did you lose from the damages.  

Federal or State Government

Additionally, someone sustaining property damage from these events will also look to the government for monetary assistance. However, a 19th century United States Supreme Court ruling, said that states can open a riot relief fund. Thus, if your state does not have a riot relief fund, the federal government will not usually assist businesses. However, the federal government decides to step in and help out cities that sustain riot damage. Yet, even if this occurs, the government does not evenly distribute these funds. Thus, if your business sustained riot damage, you may not receive government funding to fix these damages.

Private Organizations and Charities

If one cannot recover all or most damages from insurance companies, the actual rioters, or the government, private organizations may help to fill this void. Charitable organizations may be able to offer some financial assistance to damaged businesses. However, this relief will likely be relatively small as these organizations have very limited funds. The best way to receive relief from charitable organizations is to contact them as soon as the damage occurs. Additionally, follow up many times—this is even more true if your entire community has sustained substantial damage.

Filing Insurance Claims for Civil Unrest

The most common entity to pay for damage caused by civil unrest, riots, and vandalism is insurance companies. Thus, below is a list of ways to ensure that you will be properly compensated for the losses you suffered.

Report Your Claim Immediately

No matter the damages you sustain, you must report these damages and file a claim as soon as possible. This helps to ensure that you will receive compensation quickly.

Prevent Further Damage

After filing your insurance claim, you should do whatever you can to prevent further damage to your property. For example, you should board up broken windows, place cones and hazard tape around substantial damages, and make temporary repairs. One important note is that you should not make any permanent repairs to your property. This is true until the insurance adjuster inspects the damage and files a formal report.

Save Receipts

Another important tip is to ensure that you save all your receipts. This includes any expense you incur from the repairs you make on your property to protect against further damage. The reason to save receipts is so that you will be reimbursed for the cost of these repairs.

Document the Damage

Documenting the damage to your property is the most important thing you can do when filing an insurance claim. The best way to document damage is to describe the cause of the damage. Next, describe the extent of the damage. Finally, take accompanying videos or pictures of that damage. This will help the insurance adjuster make their decision on the claim and how much money you should receive. Finally, it is best to attach these documents with the initial claim reports.

Work Only with Reliable Professional Repair Contractors

Ensuring that your property will not sustain long-term property damages from these damaging events is critical. The best way to do this is to hire a contractor that you trust and will complete the repairs properly. The best way to ensure that you hire a reliable professional is to ask for and verify references. A second way is to contact the police offices where the contractor previously worked. Finally, contact the chambers of commerce or better business bureaus for complaints against the contractor. Once you find a few different contractors that are reliable, you should start the bidding process. However, don’t let your haste tempt you into accepting a lackluster offer. A rule of thumb is to receive at least three bids from different contractors before choosing one to work with.

Hire a Professional Cleaning Service for Your Business

Hiring a professional company to clean your business offers a few different benefits. First, this company will know how to properly clean up the damage and work to restore your business. Second, these workers have experience cleaning up riot damage. Thus, these workers will be less likely to sustain injuries by cleaning up the damage. However, if you have your own employees clean the damage, there are precautions you need to take. These precautions include making sure your employees use safety gear like protective eyewear, gloves, hardhats, and dust masks or respirators.

Read Your Policy

Most of the tips above will help you receive monetary compensation to repair your business as soon as possible. However, make sure that you talk to your insurance company. The reason you should do this is to understand your insurance policy when filing a claim and documenting damages. This is important to ensure that you do not take any actions that could hurt your ability to receive compensation.

Final Thoughts

You may have sustained minor or substantial property damage due to civil unrest, riots, and vandalism. Either way, hiring an attorney with a broad base of knowledge and experience may be key to receiving compensation. The Antonoplos & Associates attorneys can work with insurance companies, construction companies, and contractors, and bring forth formal litigation if desired. The Antonoplos & Associates lawyers have over 20 years of experience helping clients in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. With this knowledge and experience, we can help you with any legal issues you encounter.

Contact our DC Law Office for More Information

Finally, for more information on what to do if your property was damaged from riots, contact us at 202-803-5676. You can also directly schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys. Additionally, for general information regarding property damage, check out our blog.