When a wildfire damages your home or business, you turn to your insurance company for assistance. You hope they have answers, but that’s only sometimes the case. Despite all of those heartwarming jingles, insurance companies do what they can to protect their company’s financial assets.
At some point, you understand. If insurance company employees are looking out for the company, you need someone looking out for you. Before you work with a law firm, you need to know how to choose the best California wildfire lawyer for your case.
Often wildfire losses aren’t just about your home, business, or personal property. If you inhaled smoke or sustained burn injuries, you have medical bills, lost income, and other costs to consider. When rebuilding your home and your life, you need a legal professional to resolve these complex issues.
We understand that many attorneys will take your case, but before you decide, we want to offer guidance to help you choose the right California wildfire lawyer.
You Need a California Wildfire Lawyer
A wildfire turns your life upside down in so many ways. You need a knowledgeable legal representative who is capable of helping you get back to normal. You should never choose a lawyer simply because they handled your real estate deal or sounded sincere in a television ad.
You need an attorney who has resolved cases involving wildfire victims, their insurers, their legal representatives, and self-insured entities. Your lawyer should demonstrate past and current success in resolving the issues you’re trying to manage.
By the time you decide you need an attorney representing your interests, you will likely encounter many difficulties with the post-catastrophe claim process. When you choose a law firm, you need a team of knowledgeable legal professionals with the capacity and the resources to take much of that burden off your shoulder.
You Must Choose Carefully
When you choose the right California wildfire attorney, they become deeply involved in your life. You share your personal and financial details and give them access to the same information your insurance companies already have. If you sustained fire, smoke, or ash injuries, your attorney also requests and reviews your doctor bills, medical records, employment records, and other private information.
Wildfire attorneys take responsibility for investigating claims on your behalf. They evaluate your property and injury claims and make recommendations about financial compensation. You must have enough confidence in them to authorize this type of reach into your personal life. You must trust that they protect your legal interests during negotiations, depositions, and court.
Ask Friends, Family, and Neighbors for a Referral
Wildfires have a destructive nature that generates wide areas of damage. If a fire damaged your property and injured you, it likely affected many families in your area.
If anyone you know is working with an attorney, ask them to share information about their experience.
- Was their attorney knowledgeable and compassionate?
- Did they favorably resolve their case?
- Are they satisfied with the overall results?
- Would they recommend their attorney to friends, family members, and neighbors?
Arrange a Consultation
You should never decide based solely on a law firm’s website or a client review. Arrange a consultation and learn more about the firm. Many attorneys talk to you about your case without charging a fee.
They should also conduct your consultation in a way that’s most convenient for you.
- Phone call
- Online chat
- Videoconferencing: Skype, Zoom, etc.
- If you cannot leave your location, some legal representatives visit you at home to discuss your case.
Ask the Right Questions
When you’re searching for the right lawyer, it’s similar to conducting a job interview. You select your prime candidates, determine if they are right for the job, and make a final decision. To find the right lawyer for your wildfire case, you must decide what you need, then ask the right questions.
Unlike potential employees, attorneys have unique personalities, working styles, histories, and attitudes. You should look for a successful, trustworthy lawyer, someone you will feel comfortable with over the life of your claim. Consider asking these questions and any others you believe will give you the necessary information. Lawyers intimidate you at least a little if you’re like many people. You should still ask whatever questions you have in mind to ensure a good fit.
Have you handled wildfire claims before?
This is a Yes or No question. When dealing with serious issues, you don’t want an inexperienced attorney. You have a right to know their background and work experience. If they don’t give you a straight answer, the answer is probably No.
Have you ever negotiated a wildfire injury settlement?
If this seems inappropriate for a legal professional, remember they will probably negotiate your claims someday. Many attorneys have never negotiated a wildfire personal injury case before. You need to ensure that your attorney isn’t using your case for negotiation practice.
Most liability cases settle instead of going to trial. You must know that your lawyer has participated in negotiations, mediation, settlement conferences, and other informal settlement processes. Even when they must file a lawsuit to protect their interests, courts push them toward alternative resolutions.
Your lawyer needs to understand currently-known wildfire injury issues. They should also know to keep track of developing information about toxic wildfire-affected air and its potential to cause respiratory illnesses and cancer.
Have you ever resolved an insurance company claim dispute?
Wildfire cases often involve conflicts between insurers and their insureds. If that’s your situation, you need a lawyer with a working knowledge of insurance companies, policy provisions, legal issues, and California’s Unfair Insurance Practices Statute.
Many insurance companies use slightly different policy forms. Your attorney doesn’t need to memorize the wording in every policy. They should understand the basic coverages, conditions, settlement guidelines, exclusions, and how they apply to your claim.
How many injury cases has your law firm tried?
There’s always a slim chance that your case will go to trial. Considering that possibility, you need an attorney with trial experience. A real trial is far different from the dramas you see on television. Lawyers often spend months participating in discovery.
This is a lengthy process where they share information about your case and usually take your deposition under oath. Before a scheduled trial, attorneys sometimes participate in mediation and court-mandated settlement conferences.
A wildfire attorney doesn’t perform like a TV lawyer during a trial. A trial is a tedious process with formal protocols. Your attorney must present a liability theory and evidence that proves your case against the responsible parties. They must also produce documentation that proves and explains your property damage and injuries. If you opt for a jury trial, your attorney must explain these issues so that every jury member understands them and supports your position.
May I see your case results?
When an attorney has a history of great case results, they have no problem discussing them. If they have privacy concerns, they eliminate their clients’ data. If a prospective lawyer doesn’t discuss past results, they probably have nothing to brag about.
When I need a case status, how do I reach you?
A qualified attorney with a strong track record will often be too busy to talk to you because they are handling cases.
Before you become frustrated with your communication efforts, discuss the law firm’s communication policy.
- How?: Is it best to reach them by phone, text, email, or Zoom?
- When?: What is the firm’s customary response time when you leave a message?
- Attorney Availability?: Will the attorney be available to talk to you? If not, who will respond to your calls?
How much will I pay for your services?
Attorneys usually handle personal injury or property damage cases on a contingency fee basis. The American Bar Association’s Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.5 Fees, explains how this works.
When your attorney charges a contingency fee, they don’t bill you for legal services until they settle your case or win a court judgment. They base their fee on a percentage of your settlement amount. The percentage is usually higher if your attorney must file a lawsuit or try your case.
You should also ask a potential attorney about their policy regarding expenses incurred while handling your case. This sometimes includes costs for independent investigator services, document production, medical records, expert fees, deposition costs, and more. If a law firm has the resources to pay the expenses upfront, it can often affect your case’s outcome.
What Can a Wildfire Attorney Do for You?
When you talk to a law firm about representing you for wildfire damages, you must consider several issues. You want an attorney who understands your specific problems and can explain complicated issues in a way you can understand. You must ensure they understand insurance policies, claim complications, and liability issues. Knowledgeable California wildfire lawyers perform several professional tasks for their clients.
Negotiate Your Homeowners Claim
Disputes arise between insurance companies and their insureds for many reasons. Many issues arise with catastrophic wildfire claims because insurers handle them differently than individual fire damage claims. When you have a small home fire, typically, your insurer sends out a property adjuster—often their employee—to evaluate the damage. As wildfire losses often affect many families in the same area, high-profile insurers become overwhelmed and less reliable.
In managing this claim influx, insurers often enhance their property claim staff with emergency crews. This strategy often brings together property adjusters from other parts of the country, adjusters who don’t usually handle property claims, and independent adjusters who work for their agencies.
Their primary tasks involve:
- Making contact.
- Inspecting and photographing the damage.
- Estimating the total loss.
- Quickly moving on to the next claim.
As a homeowner, the catastrophic claim handling process only sometimes addresses all of your concerns for several reasons.
- The person who inspects the damage isn’t necessarily the person who authorizes your payment.
- Property insurance adjusters often speak in insurance jargon you might need help understanding.
- After a catastrophic loss, high demand for resources and labor often triggers extreme price increases.
- Insurance companies must settle claims within your policy limit, which might not be enough.
- An adjuster may only explain some of your policy coverages if you ask.
- Insurers and their insureds often disagree on repair or replacement costs.
- Some insurers suggest they give you a policy so you can read it yourself.
- Some policies have a “coinsurance” penalty that further reduces your claim payment if you didn’t purchase the appropriate amount of insurance.
- Insurers often need clarification on requirements. They require a sworn proof of loss. They also require your proof of loss (claim documentation.)
- Insurers expect compliance with your policy terms, but they don’t always explain.
A wildfire lawyer regularly handles these problems, so they understand the issues. They know how to prove your damages and negotiate a fair settlement.
Negotiate Your Business Owner’s Claim
As a business owner, you often encounter many of the same issues. In addition to handling your property losses, a wildfire attorney negotiates a fair business interruption and business personal property settlement with your insurer. California wildfire attorneys understand the talking points as they have seen these types of cases repeatedly.
Resolve Your Personal Injury Claim
In addition to damaging and destroying homes and businesses, fire, smoke, and ash cause serious and fatal injuries.
- A single Butte County wildfire fatally injured 85 people.
- A Napa County cancer report explains how wildfire ash, debris, and particulates often include asbestos, heavy metals, arsenic, lead, and other known carcinogens. When synthetic materials burn in cars, building materials, and personal property, they release these contaminants into the air, ground, and water.
- The American Pediatrics Association has determined that exposure to wildfire particulates increases respiratory distress in children and other vulnerable patients.
A lawyer would seek compensation on your behalf if you sustained wildfire-related burns or smoke and ash inhalation injuries. They assess your personal injuries and work to recover damages using the same strategies they use for other injury claims.
Negotiate Your Property Damage Liability Claims
Even if your insurer gives you a fair settlement, you often have uninsured or underinsured losses they won’t pay. As authorities have traced many of the recent wildfires to power company operations, some companies have established funds to pay for wildfire-related losses. You may also claim property damage if wildfires damaged or destroyed your car or truck.
You Need a Wildfire Lawyer You Can Trust
If something about a lawyer triggers your suspicion, you should look for someone else. Even if they meet your requirements, you must see them as trustworthy. You will spend months or even years in a close working relationship. They will get to know your most intimate details.
You can accept their words and actions as good-faith efforts for you. If you have lingering doubts, you should consider another lawyer.
Contact a Wildfire attorney
Catastrophic fire claims involve complex property damage, injury, liability, and insurance issues. You need a California wildfire lawyer representing your legal interests. When you arrange a case review, they listen to you and explain your legal options. When you agree to work together, they take the appropriate steps to protect your legal interests and resolve your claims.
If you are in the unfortunate position of needing a wildfire attorney, contact an experienced firm for a free case evaluation and find the right legal professional to support you in a trying time.