Who Pays for a Riot?

Tips for property owners when fans and demonstrators turn destructive in Pennsylvania

By Benjy Schirm, J.D. | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on April 4, 2023

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After the Eagles won the Super Bowl, “Fly, Eagles Fly!” became a battle cry. Couches blazed in flames, and cars were flipped. The riot police were called in to break up the mobs, as fans and gallivanters looked on.

A city full of people celebrating is a wonderful thing, but when things take a turn, riot damage to properties and personal injury can occur.

Who Pays for Order To Be Restored?

Firstly, insurance companies, pay for property damages and injuries. In most instances, the property owners’ mandated insurance will cover any damages caused by rioting. And any person injured on someone’s property, generally, will be paid by the property owner’s insurance company. Car owners’ insurance will also generally cover any riot damage to his or her car caused by civil unrest.

However, there are exceptions to coverage. If there is theft or stolen property involved, many property insurance companies will not cover these losses. If injuries were sustained that could not be reasonably foreseen by the property owner, they would probably not be the responsibility of the property owner’s insurance.

Unfortunately, some car owners carry policies with high deductibles that make replacement or repair of an upturned vehicle costly.

And even worse: Some insurance companies add clauses to their policies that prohibit any damages caused by civil unrest.

Who Else Can Step In?

There are various organizations that can step in when destruction reaches a certain threshold.

States are allowed by law to establish riot relief funds that can be accessed by the governing body. In New York City, the fund was mostly used to compensate police and fire departments for their injuries and overtime pay.

But, notably, there are very few states that have current relief funds. Most riots are not considered disasters, so FEMA and other relief organizations are often out of their jurisdiction.

What Other Forms of Justice Are There?

In the digital age, almost every major incident is filmed on smartphones, security cameras or other digital media sources, which can help lead to identifying the person or people who have damaged the property.

Law enforcement could be contacted, and charges pressed on the perpetrators by the state. Prosecutors could charge any number of destruction of property and theft crimes, or they could even press riot/disorderly conduct charges. Each of these charges can include restitution damages, or money to the victims of the crimes.

After the excitement of a mob dies down, real destruction is left in its wake. If insurance and governmental help cannot fully compensate for damages, and the police cannot help, one should contact a reputable and experienced civil attorney.

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