Wildfires have burned hundreds of thousands of acres of land in California and the Western United States over recent years. These fires have caused billions of dollars in property damage and displaced thousands of people. Only some insurance companies offer wildfire coverage, but policies that do cover these damages are typically expensive, especially in areas at high risk of wildfire damage. After a property owner suffers property damage and other losses from a wildfire, he or she should know when there are grounds for a lawsuit and recovery beyond insurance coverage.
The first step to recovery after a wildfire is usually an insurance claim. A property owner’s policy may only cover certain types of damage or a certain amount, but it’s important to determine whether a claim falls under a policy’s guidelines. If a policyholder believes an insurance company denied a covered claim, the policyholder may have grounds for legal action against the insurer. Anyone shopping for insurance coverage in an area susceptible to wildfires should be very clear on the scope of fire damage coverage before signing up for a policy.
Even if a property owner’s insurance policy covers fire damage of some kind, it may only apply to the home and not to land, livestock, vehicles, or additional structures on a property. When insurance doesn’t apply to wildfire damage or an insurer refuses to cover it, the property owner should speak with a reliable attorney to determine the best next course of action.
If an insurance company acted in bad faith while handling a legitimate claim, the insurer faces civil liability in an insurance bad faith lawsuit. If the wildfire occurred from an intentional tort, such as arson, then any affected property owners may have grounds for civil claims against the responsible party. In such a case, the claimants could use the criminal charges from the state as grounds for restitution claims.
Negligence is another common cause of wildfires. If a private individual, company, or government entity negligently causes a wildfire, any affected property owners may have grounds for civil suits against the responsible parties. One recent example of this scenario is the lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric, a major utility provider in California found responsible for more than $9 billion in damages for fires caused by their power lines in Wine Country.
When many people suffer damages from the same cause, such as the negligence of a particular company, those individuals may opt to either file individual lawsuits against a single defendant or band together in a class-action lawsuit. In a class-action lawsuit, many plaintiffs essentially roll their claimed damages into a single lawsuit against the responsible party. This allows legal proceedings to move much more quickly for everyone involved.
There are benefits and drawbacks to either choice. An individual lawsuit may result in more compensation for a single claim, but the plaintiff will likely spend much more on legal fees and it may take a long time to receive a settlement or case award. A class-action lawsuit offers a speedier means of recovery at much lower cost to each individual plaintiff, but each plaintiff will likely receive much less than that from successful individual claims.
The damage from a wildfire can be astronomical even for a single plaintiff. A wildfire could potentially destroy a home, vehicles, land, and cause serious injuries or health problems as well. Anyone who suffers injuries or other damages from a wildfire should contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible to discuss legal options and potential complications with insurance carriers. A good attorney can determine if any parties are potentially liable for a client’s damages and help build strong civil claims against those parties.