California wildfires are becoming a part of our yearly routine.
With hotter temperatures, wildfire season seems to start earlier and earlier. This year, lightning strikes have caused a record number of fires across the state.
However, mother nature is not responsible for all these fires. Sometimes, wildfires in California are caused by the negligent actions of others.
We think of wildfires as resulting from natural conditions. But history has not borne that out. A wildfire actually includes any fire that is unwanted and which burns out of control. Wildfires destroy homes and other buildings, vegetation. They can and do cause injury and death to people, pets, and livestock.
Rebuilding a home after a fire requires time, money, patience, and often the help of experts, including expert legal help.
Determining the cause of a wildfire is a complicated process and these cases tend to be complex.
This is a time of huge stress for the homeowner and family. Determining fault for a fire is a difficult but often necessary step in the resolution of these cases. If the fire was caused by the negligence of another it is necessary to file a claim against the culpable party in addition to filing a claim against your own insurance company. An attorney can help you navigate this terrain.
Reckless Burning, Unintentional Burning, and Other Forms of Negligence
Sometimes human interaction can spark a fire that unintentionally turns into a wildfire. This can be as a result of a controlled burn that quickly gets out of control, a flung match or cigarette, a campfire in or near dry tinder, or even a malfunctioning vehicle that causes sparks in dry tinder.
It can also be the result of reckless burning. California law makes it illegal to recklessly set fire to or burn any structure, forest land or property. While this statute is listed under California’s arson laws, it is meant to cover fires which have been recklessly or negligently set. These fires are usually set unintentionally.
Utilities and power lines can also start wildfires. PG&E recently admitted liability for the 2018 fire that destroyed the town of Paradise, California. Most power companies have their power lines above ground and these lines are susceptible to a number of issues such as transformer malfunctions, arcing in high winds, downed trees, and animal interference.
Most of the time, these legal claims are brought as negligence actions.
Other causes of action arise out of negligence and include:
- Nuisance: This cause of action is an unlawful interference with the ability to use and enjoy property
- Wrongful death: People die in fires or as a result of injuries from fires. This cause of action allows a decedent’s family to seek compensation for the death of a loved due to another’s negligence
- Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress: This cause of action addresses the emotional injury that fires can bring; and
- Interference With Business: This cause of action addresses the damage to a business which is damaged or destroyed as a result of a negligently set fire.
These cases are complex and require a good deal of investigation and coordination in the claims and litigation process. Fire investigators must trace the origin of the fire and experts are involved throughout the litigation process.
Claims Against Your Own Insurance Company
A standard homeowner’s policy will provide coverage to a homeowner against fire. In some areas where wildfires are prevalent, additional coverage is increasingly being sought out by homeowners. But even with extra coverage, some homeowners who make claims against their own policies find that the cost of rebuilding exceeds the amount that their insurance wants to payout.
Battles with your own insurance company are never pleasant, but they can be necessary. It is helpful to know your policy limits, know what is covered, and know whether your insurance company is reimbursing you based on the actual cash value or replacement cost of the property lost.
Actual cash value often represents a depreciated value, leaving you with less money in reimbursement.
Claims disputes with your insurance adjuster are not infrequent in large cases. There is an inherent conflict. You need the greatest payment allowable, and your insurance company wants to pay the least amount that it can and still be within the bounds of the law. It can help to have an attorney at your side when handling these claims. It can mean more money and peace of mind.