Most wildfires in California start because of careless humans. Wildfires usually lead to insurance claims for loss of real and personal property. However, negligence could cause personal injury or even death. You could recover compensation from your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance or the person or entity that ignited the fire.
The most common causes of wildfire ignition include campfires left unattended, equipment malfunction, power line issues, fireworks, people burning debris, throwing out live cigarette butts, blown tires, car fires, and arson.
In some cases, authorities never learn who started the fire, even though they might determine what started it. However, in other cases, authorities will track documentation to determine who started the fire. For example, someone who left a campfire burning may have registered to use a campsite. In other cases, companies often admit that their malfunctioning equipment started the fire.
Regardless of the cause, recovering compensation for your wildfire-related losses can require in-depth investigations and difficult legal battles. A California wildfire litigation lawyer can handle those and many other tasks for you and recover every penny you deserve from the at-fault parties.
According to Cal Fire, 7,490 wildfires burned 362,455 acres in one recent year. The wildfires killed nine people and burned 876 structures. Of those, 104 suffered damage, and 772 suffered significant destruction. The claims and financial burdens can overwhelm even the largest insurance companies. A California wildfire litigation lawyer, however, can get and keep your insurer’s attention and ensure it does not shirk its contractual obligations to pay for your losses.
You can protect your home and personal items against loss by obtaining a wildfire policy as part of your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policies. Always shop around for pricing and what the insurance company covers. Buy enough to cover all of your personal belongings and your home. Renters only have to worry about having enough to cover their personal belongings, as the landlord should purchase wildfire insurance for the structure.
Many people who obtain wildfire insurance through their homeowner’s or renter’s insurance are often underinsured.
You can prevent that by:
- Taking an inventory of all your personal property. Take photos of the personal property and price it new. You should go through your list every year to delete items you no longer have and add new items. When going through your list, edit the prices. When a wildfire destroys personal property, the insurance pays you to purchase those items brand new.
- Have a contractor come out and give you an estimate to build your home in today’s dollars. One of the most significant issues with home valuation is that many homes built more than eight to ten years ago do not meet current building codes. Thus, it would cost additional money to build the same home because of a possible increase in property values, an increase in the cost of supplies, and an increase in cost because of updated building codes.
Match the current pricing to the wildfire insurance you already have. Call the company to increase the coverage amount to 50 percent more than the current value of your real and personal property. You might find that you were underinsured and need double the coverage. Doing that gives you extra money if you forgot something or a wildfire destroys your property before you can value it for the new year.
Collecting Insurance After a Wildfire: Senate Bill 872
After a wildfire, you could recover compensation from your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance company. However, the California Department of Insurance received many complaints from consumers about the way homeowner’s insurance and renter’s insurance companies handled claims.
Gov. Gavin Newsome signed Senate Bill 872 into law. The Bill provides additional coverages and rules for insurance companies when handling wildfire claims.
Land Value Deduction
Previously, insurance companies could deduct the value of the land if you chose to purchase or build elsewhere. Under Senate Bill 872, insurance companies must pay you the value of your home and the land it sits on if you choose to build or purchase elsewhere. This could add tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars to the compensation you receive from your homeowner’s insurance.
Insurance companies must pay two weeks’ worth of additional living expenses for those ordered to evacuate under mandatory evacuation orders. Wildfire victims can request extensions if they can show good cause for further compensation.
Restriction of Additional Living Expenses
The Senate Bill also states that insurance companies cannot restrict additional living expenses if a wildfire makes your home uninhabitable, even if the wildfire didn’t damage the property. For example, if a wildfire cuts electricity or water and it will be some time before you will get power or water back, the insurance company must provide additional living expenses until the power or water gets restored.
However, the insurance company can provide an alternative remedy instead of paying additional living expenses. For example, the insurance company can provide a portable generator or portable water source until you have power or water restored.
Insurance companies must pay out at least four months of additional living expenses if you request it as long as the state declares a state of emergency. You could also recover additional benefits after the advance period you asked for ends. However, you will need to document everything to get the insurance company to pay the other benefits.
In the past, you had to use a company-specific inventory form for some insurance companies. Additionally, some insurance companies did not allow you to group certain items together. The Senate Bill states that insurance companies must accept an inventory list you created.
It must also accept certain groupings, including:
- Food items.
For these items, you no longer have to list individual items.
60-Day Grace Period
Insurance companies can cancel your insurance if you miss a payment. However, if you are in a wildfire-affected area, you have a 60-day grace period to pay your policy premiums.
Collecting Insurance After a Wildfire: AB 2756
Gov. Gavin Newsome also signed AB 2756 into law, which provides new protections:
- Your insurance company must inform you if it removes fire peril coverage when you renew your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy. Previously, without such notification, the Department of Insurance heard many complaints stating that a person had coverage but did not when a wildfire hit.
- If a homeowner’s insurance policy provides dwelling structure coverage, it must include a minimum of 10 percent of primary dwelling limits for the consumer to use as an additional amount to rebuild to updated building codes, such as solar panels and fire sprinklers.
Underinsured and Uninsured Situations
If you take a guess at the value of your home and possessions, you could significantly undervalue yourself. Thus, it is essential to check the value of personal possessions every year. It is also necessary to have a contractor value the rebuilt value of your home. While you don’t need to do that every year, it’s a good idea to do it every five or six years, especially if you’ve heard of upgraded building codes.
In the case of underinsured and uninsured situations, you could still recover compensation from an individual or entity that caused the wildfire.
How a California Wildfire Litigation Lawyer Can Help with Insurance Claims
A California wildfire litigation lawyer can help you in two ways: By helping you file a claim with your insurance company or by filing a lawsuit against the person or entity that ignited the fire—or both.
Filing Insurance Claims
As with other insurance companies, homeowner’s and renter’s insurance companies are in business to make a profit. Every claim they pay cuts into their profits. And when a wildfire damages or destroys property, these insurance companies have many claims to pay out. In the case of a large fire, they could take a loss if they have many clients living in the affected area.
With the new laws signed by the governor, it is harder for the insurance company to offer you a pittance. However, the value of personal possessions and real estate could be at the discretion of the insurance company. You might have to fight to recover the compensation you deserve. And, if you suffered injuries because of a wildfire, you have medical expenses to claim.
A California wildfire litigation attorney can work with the insurance company to negotiate a fair and reasonable settlement, including attorney’s fees and costs. Of course, this is easier if you have a complete inventory list—the attorney won’t have to negotiate items you said you had but don’t have proof of ownership. He or she would only have to argue the retail value of your personal possessions and the value of remodeling or building your home from the ground up.
In some cases, an attorney might need to file a lawsuit against an insurance company if it refuses a fair and reasonable settlement. Two things could happen: the insurance company does not want to litigate, as it is very expensive because it thinks it will lose. The insurance company will restart negotiations and will usually come back with a fair and reasonable settlement amount. The insurance company believes its valuation is more correct than yours and will continue with litigation.
In cases where you are underinsured or uninsured, and the state determines who started the fire, you could recover compensation for destroyed or damaged personal property and real estate from the individual or entity that ignited the fire.
Because many people are often underinsured or uninsured, the courts will combine the cases into one—a mass litigation lawsuit. However, you still have to prove the value of your losses and other damages, including additional living expenses. These are usually complex cases with many deadlines. A California wildfire litigation lawyer ensures you do not miss any deadlines for filing court documents and submitting evidence.
Your attorney can also help value your possessions and home, research the wildfire to see if the state determined who started the fire, and make sure you recover the compensation you deserve.
Additionally, if an insurance company tries to skirt the laws, including the new laws recently signed by Governor Gavin Newsome, a California wildfire litigation attorney can educate the insurance company on the new laws. If the insurance company still refuses to abide by the laws, your attorney already has most of the information required to file a lawsuit against the insurance company.
Finally, if you suffered personal injuries because of a wildfire, a California wildfire litigation lawyer can help you recover compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and other losses you suffered from the fire. When officials order a mandatory evacuation, things can become chaotic.
If you suffer injuries during the evacuation because of another person’s or entity’s negligence, you could recover personal injury-related damages and losses. When looking for a wildfire litigation attorney, look for someone with experience handling insurance and personal injury claims.
If you suffered losses and injuries because of a wildfire, contact a California wildfire litigation lawyer for a free case evaluation.