This sounds a little difficult; I would suggest that you talk with a lawyer. You can find free advice on the Internet. The laws of your current location will not apply; the only laws that will apply are those from the state and locality where the house that you own lies. Your distance will only complicate that problem as will the fact that this house is probably in another state.
It doesn't matter if the house was rented or not, it depends on who owns the property, if that is you then you COULD be liable. If you are liable, and even to determine that liability you are going to need a lawyer in the area to handle the case. Unless you can go to that house and handle it yourself then you will HAVE to have a local lawyer. Ideally you will contact a law firm in your region that has offices in that region, but that will not be likely unless you are dealing with large cities and you are willing to hire a top flight law firm. If you can find someone in the area who is willing to act as your agent then you will have to trust them and sign a Limited Power of Attorney to give them this permission. You can do this for free, but you will be best represented by a lawyer. Your agent will have to act on his knowledge and that may not be enough. If your agent has to deal with another lawyer then you will most likely come out poorly on any deal.
I am going to assume the worst case scenario that your neighbor wants to replace the fence. Otherwise it is the responsibility of the driver to repair the fence and your neighbor is responsible for making that happen. After all the damage occurred on his side of the fence, therefore on his property.
What about the insurance from the car and driver that hit the fence in the first place? Since they caused the accident then they are the sole party responsible for fixing that damage caused by the collision. Your neighbor has to make this happen, and until he does then it is your neighbor’s responsibility to assume that cost himself. Neither you nor your renter damaged the fence. If the damage was done on your neighbor’s side of the fence, on his property then he is responsible for repairing that fence. If this means he has to hold his friend responsibility then that is his task.
I would stand firm on this issue, "Until the driver is held responsible for his damage caused on the fence you cannot hold me responsible, since that driver is your friend, and since you are on the scene then YOU will have to compel that driver to contribute, at least the cost to repair the damage he caused.”
The Neighbor has to do the following before you will pay a dime.
1.Get the driver to pay their fair share.
2.If the driver is willing to pay then you will then have your contribution determined. If the driver is insured with liability insurance then the driver’s insurance company must inspect and estimate the damage before any work can be done on the fence.
3.If that driver refuses to pay then the neighbor must compel him. That will require the neighbor to file a police complaint and charge the driver with Hit and Run. The driver caused an accident and then drove off, that is a hit and run case with only one person at fault. So the driver is solely responsible for paying the cost to repair the damage.
4.If the driver refuse to pay and if he doesn’t have liability insurance then your neighbor will have to file the police court and bring a lawsuit against the driver compelling him to pay for the damage he caused to the fence. Since this driver is your neighbor’s friend then he is going to have to do this. Since the damage is on his side of the fence then it is your neighbor’s sole responsibility to compel the driver to pay.
5.If the neighbor refuses to compel the driver to pay then he has to assume the responsibility for the damage that the driver caused. Hold him responsible to prove that he acted in good faith and tried to get the driver to pay for the damage he caused, this will require a police report on the Hit and Run. You will also require the information on the driver so you can investigate and compel the driver to pay. This means that you will have the driver arrested and both of you will have to pay the court costs that result including any lawsuits.
If the neighbor gets the driver to pay then this case can continue. Until he makes an “in full faith” attempt to do this, and proves it to you then you are not going to pay. Make this perfectly clear to your neighbor. This case involves three parties, the owners, and the one that caused the accident.
At this point you will now need a lawyer from the area where your house is located, you can contact them by phone and have them fax you the contracts. This lawyer will probably be willing to talk with you for free, but he won’t take a single step on the case until a contract is signed and you start paying him. You will need the lawyer to investigate (or hire an investigator) to look into the situation; typically a simple on site visit will be enough. Your lawyer will also have to hire an independent construction contractor to make an estimate of the damage, and what it will cost to repair. This contractor will also have to determine if the fence was built properly in the first place. He will need pictures taken as soon after construction to determine this. If he can’t then he is going to be forced to rely on the neighbor’s word about this. You will claim that the fence was not built right, but without proof of it that becomes a dead issue. All of these costs, with a suitable markup, will be passed on to you.
Determine your quitting point. You only have so much you can afford or so many bills you are willing to take on. Tell your lawyer this so he won’t go over your budget. You are being realistic so he won’t mind this; after all he wants to get paid. The unwritten rule in lawsuits is that only the lawyers will be sure to profit, everyone else is going to pay (the exception is pro bono work done by lawyers, which they do for their own reasons). Have your lawyer provide his estimate for his work, the contractor’s estimate, and have your lawyer get the estimate from your neighbor. At some point it is going to be cheaper to pay to get the fence replaced, you need to keep on the costs and determine when this point will come and which way you want to go. This is the first point to determine this. You can’t take your neighbors word alone so you will need a lawyer to do this much. Now you will have to decide if you want to continue the case.
What about your own insurance? I don’t mean renter’s insurance; I mean your insurance on that property. If you have insurance then they will be have to determine their own liability and yours. (If you don’t have this insurance then you will be responsible for handling the damage caused by your renters. You will have to pay for it, or make them pay for it, and that will require a lawsuit.)
Next what about the neighbor’s homeowner’s insurance? If the neighbor has a homeowner’s policy, and he will be required to have one if he still has a mortgage, then that policy will have to be called into effect. Your neighbor has to contact his insurance company and get them to make an estimate; if that means an increase in the neighbor’s insurance premiums then that is his responsibility. Your lawyer will need to deal with the homeowners insurance companies and find out what they are willing to pay.
Handling damage to a part of the property is exactly why you have insurance; all three parties will have to get their own insurance companies’ involved. Your lawyer will have to represent you in these discussions.
What about the contractor that built the fence? Since you say (legally = claim) that the fence was never built right in the first place then the contractor who built the fence is responsible for fulfilling his warrantee. Since bricklayers are subcontractors this means that the company that first built the home will have to assume the liability and then it is that company’s problem to compel the bricklaying subcontractor to contribute. When a house is built and sold then it has to have a warrantee period. The warrantee may have expired by now, or the subcontractor or the company that made the contract with the subcontractor may be out of business. This all has to be determined by your lawyer.
Then is the fence on the property line or not? When was the last survey conducted and does your neighbors have a copy of that survey report? If the fence lies exactly on the property line, or close enough then you share responsibility. If it can be proved that the majority of the fence lies on one person's property then that person will be responsible for the majority of the costs. That could be you or your neighbor, and the decision about what lies on who's property will require a property survey and lawyers. Your lawyer can visit the county hall or records and find the original survey and then have the construction contractor determine which part of the fence lies on who’s property. You don’t want to have to pay for a new survey to be done, unless it can prove that you have no liability.
Now after all this your lawyer will have to contact your neighbor’s lawyer and determine a fair cost to replace the fence. It is best to let them handle the negotiations rather then let it go to court, or they could let an arbitrator make the decision.
You want the construction contractor to check up on the people hired to rebuild the fence, and their subcontractors, to make sure the fence is built properly and the costs are split in the manner that the lawyers determined. The best way to do this would be to have that construction contractor on the job. Since he was hired by your lawyer he can safely be relied on to be fair to you. So ask your lawyer to plan on this, it could be a way to reduce the cost of the construction contractor if he is doing an estimate for a job that he could be running.
Don’t forget that the neighbor is going to be angry with you, the longer this process drags on the more will be his anger. If you rely on him for help, then you can forget that. If he ends up having to pay for everything out of his pocket then he will be really angry. This will have effect on your future relations. It may never come up again, but I don’t know the situation so you have to be the judge on how far you are willing to push him. Make sure you tell the lawyer this, if it is an important issue to you.
·Hold the driver that caused the accident responsible, his contribution can be used to rebuild the entire wall. This person is a third party so his contribution should not come out of your neighbor’s share.
·If the case gets beyond this point then you will need a lawyer who is in the area to represent you.
·Your lawyer will have to determine who pays what and how much, in negotiations with your neighbor and his lawyers.
·You want a fair, legal, decision, but you want to avoid forcing the case to go to court unless you have to, rely on your lawyer’s advice.
·You need local representation; your lawyer and a contractor hired by your lawyer will be enough to do that.
I recommend that you send this letter to your lawyer and ask for his (or her) PROFESSIONAL opinion. My outline could give him some leads, and a methodology, but he will be the “person on the scene,” the person that you hire, and the one who will actually know what to do. I have had a college level law course so I know very little. I also don’t have any knowledge about the state where it happened or the laws in the area so YOU WILL HAVE TO HAVE A LAWYER.
PS. I hope to a best answer out of this, so please chose one and don't let it go to vote. If someone gives you a better answer then feel free to vote for them, but I have put in the time to think about this and your problem is a difficult one.