Authorities are still investigating the underlying cause of the McKinney Fire that killed at least four people and burned through 60,000 acres of land. The fire destroyed over 180 structures, including the majority of the Klamath River community, leaving only a few homes intact.
One of the probable causes of the McKinney fire is a tree leaning onto a power line. That’s the reason why some of the victims are suing the local utility company, PacifiCorp.
The wildfire victims blame sparks from the high-voltage transmission lines and other equipment, which is part of the PacifiCorp infrastructure. These sparks may have hit the surrounding trees and caused the fire. The possible reason for these sparks is poor equipment maintenance.
Let’s take a closer look at the McKinney fire and related legal action. If you aren’t sure whether you have a case or how to proceed, consider speaking to a local McKinney fire attorney.
McKinney Fire Lawsuits
Since August of a recent year, several victims and their families have filed lawsuits against PacifiCorp. They are seeking to recover damages because they believe that the utility company acted negligently.
The company could have prevented the dangerous situation by maintaining the equipment properly and removing vegetation. All utility companies have a duty to act reasonably to prevent danger. This duty includes maintaining all lines and equipment as well as keeping vegetation away.
If a plaintiff can prove negligence, they may be entitled to sizable compensation for economic, non-economic, and wrongful death damages.
Right now, McKinney Fire lawsuits are ongoing. If you’ve suffered injuries in this fire, you may be entitled to compensation. Consider hiring a McKinney Fire attorney to help you get the money you deserve.
What Should McKinney Fire Victims Do
If you sustained injuries or lost property in the McKinney Fire, you can recover damages from the at-fault party. Even though the investigation into the cause of the fire isn’t over yet, you can begin building your case.
Notify Your Insurance Company
If you lost property in the fire, it’s important to notify the insurance company immediately. The McKinney fire is officially a State of California declared disaster. This means that your insurance company must give you an advance of not less than 30 percent of the coverage limit and at least four months of “additional living expense” coverage.
Ask the company to make the payment in cash in order to help you find temporary housing as soon as possible.
Keep in mind that your homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover injuries you sustain on your property. To recover damages, you would need to sue the at-fault party, if any.
As soon as you can, start collecting evidence related to the fire.
It can include:
- Medical bills
- Doctor’s reports
- Photos of injuries
- Photos and videos of your property
- Letters from the insurance companies
- Evacuation expenses (food receipts, credit card statements, invoices)
Anything that can prove how much damage you sustained in the McKinney Fire can be extremely helpful for obtaining fair compensation.
Contact an Attorney
The McKinney Fire lawsuit isn’t a straightforward personal injury case. PacifiCorp is likely to do everything possible to avoid the blame. Otherwise, it will have to pay billions of dollars in damages.
Even if the authorities find PacifiCorp responsible, the company will fight hard to reduce the financial damage. This means that they will hire a large team of legal professionals, whose sole purpose would be to minimize settlements.
Without legal assistance, you aren’t likely to have a fighting chance. That’s why it makes sense to consult an attorney before filing a claim.
Damages in a Wildfire Lawsuit
If you can prove the at-fault party’s negligence and back your losses with evidence, you can recover several types of damages related to your injuries.
Economic damages related to the injuries sustained in the McKinney Fire can be devastating. Starting from medical bills and ending with lost wages, you can recover a sizable compensation.
Common injury-related economic wildfire damages include:
- Medical treatment. This can include treatment for burns, respiratory problems due to smoke inhalation, surgery, post-op care, and more.
- Lost wages. If injuries you sustained in the fire caused you to miss work, you can obtain compensation for the money you would have earned during this period.
- Loss of earning capacity. If injuries you sustained in the fire keep you from returning to work in full capacity, you can also seek compensation.
- Recovery therapy. If you need therapy to recover from your injuries, the at-fault party can also cover them.
Economic damages are damages that you can back with tangible evidence, such as medical bills, W-2 forms, invoices, and more. It’s important to start collecting this evidence as soon as you decide to file a lawsuit. The more evidence you have, the more likely you are to obtain fair compensation.
A McKinney Fire attorney can consult you about the quality of your evidence and its role in your case. They can also help collect relevant proof that you may not have thought of.
When you sustain injuries in a fire, you are likely to experience pain, suffering, emotional anguish, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), loss of quality of life, depression, anxiety, and much more. The party responsible for the fire should cover these damages.
To prove these damages (also called pain and suffering), you would need to collect relevant evidence, including:
- Photos and videos of your injury
- Personal journals that may describe the loss of quality of life
- Eyewitness testimony
- Expert witness testimony
Proving the extent of non-economic damages can have a significant effect on the size of your payout. Judges often use the multiplier method to calculate non-economic damages.
They take the amount of economic damages and multiply it by a certain number (between 1.5 and 5) according to the extent of your injuries and suffering. Accordingly, pain and suffering can increase your settlement by over 150 percent percent.
Wrongful Death Damages
If your loved one died in the McKinney Fire and PacifiCorp turns out to be responsible, you can sue for wrongful death damages.
- Expenses for treatment before death (if any)
- Burial and funeral expenses
- Loss of emotional and financial support
- Loss of inheritance
- The amount the decedent would’ve earned as income
In California, you can file a wrongful death lawsuit, if you are:
- A surviving spouse
- A child
- A grandchild (if the decedent’s children have died)
- A minor stepchild (if you were dependent on the decedent for at least 50 percent of your financial support)
California law also allows putative spouses (spouses who believed that the marriage was valid when it wasn’t) to file such lawsuits.
Sometimes, a judge decides to punish the defendant even further and assign punitive damages. This can happen if the court finds PacifiCorp outrageously negligent and reckless. In many cases, the amount of punitive damages exceeds the amount of other damages significantly.
If you have any evidence that can prove the company’s reckless behavior, it can be helpful when determining punitive damages.
Your insurance company is responsible for covering property damages sustained in a wildfire. However, the amount you receive may not be sufficient.
Large fires, like the McKinney Fire, take a serious toll on insurance companies, which have to pay numerous clients. That’s why they work hard to minimize payments.
If your homeowner’s insurance didn’t cover all property damage, you can file a claim against the at-fault party for the rest of the amount. The same is true in case you don’t have any insurance.
Property-related damages include:
- Costs or building (home or business) repair
- Lost wages
- Loss of crops
- Evacuation costs
- Loss of pets or livestock
- Damage to vegetation
- Reduced value of land
Similar to injury-related expenses, to prove property damage, you would need to provide extensive evidence.
Inverse Condemnation in the McKinney Fire
After a wildfire, you may be able to obtain compensation for property damages through inverse condemnation. According to Article 1, Section 19 of the California constitution, government-run companies that use private property for public benefit are responsible for paying compensation if they damage that property.
A property owner has the right to file a claim of inverse condemnation if the government’s use of the property reduces its economic value. Thus, you can bring the claim forward if the government’s action damages your property.
In California, privately-owned utility companies have the right to condemn private properties for their purposes. For example, for installing and maintaining power lines. It means they can be held liable under inverse condemnation for property damages during a wildfire regardless of the reason it started.
Back in September 2020, California residents claimed inverse condemnation against PacifiCorp after Slater Fire. They argued that the company didn’t manage vegetation around their power lines, which eventually caused strong winds to start a devastating fire.
In October 2019, the Kincade Fire ravaged Sonoma County and destroyed almost 400 buildings. Victims filed several lawsuits against PG&E to recover property damage under inverse condemnation.
If you believe that PacifiCorp deprived you of the value of your property due to the McKinney Fire, you may be eligible for filing an inverse condemnation claim. An attorney can help you figure out whether your case has merit.
Negligence in Causing the McKinney Wildfire
All utility companies in California, including PacifiCorp, have a legal duty of care to the residents to act reasonably based on the circumstances.
Wildfire prevention is one of their direct duties since California’s high temperatures, dry vegetation, and drought conditions make it easy for the fire to spread and cause significant damage.
If the utility company fails to exercise due caution as PacifiCorp may have done, they fail to meet the duty of care. This is called negligence.
The company acts negligently if it:
- Doesn’t follow fire safety regulations.
- Fails to install electric equipment properly.
- Doesn’t safety-test equipment for the possibility of strong winds
- Hires unqualified employees or subcontractors.
- Doesn’t remove vegetation around the power lines and other electrical equipment.
- Fails to arrange regular equipment inspection.
- Fails to repair, upgrade, or replace old power poles.
If the authorities find that PacifiCorp failed to exercise the legal duty of care and caused the McKinney Fire, all victims have an opportunity to receive compensation. However, proving the breach of duty of care is just one part of demonstrating negligence.
To obtain the compensation you would also need to show:
- Injuries. You need to demonstrate that injuries you sustained appeared as a result of the McKinney Fire.
- Damages. You have to show that injuries led to damages.
For example, if you suffered severe burns in a fire and had to get expensive treatment, you have to provide evidence such as medical bills, doctor’s reports, prescriptions for medications, and more.
When you file a personal injury claim, you have the burden of proof. No matter how obvious your right to compensation may seem, you need to have the evidence to back it.
Without an attorney, doing this could be tough. That’s why the McKinney Fire victims are already hiring lawyers to file claims against PacifiCorp.
Statute of Limitations
For regular personal injury claims, the statute of limitations in California is two years from the date of the injury. However, for large wildfires, the judge may extend the statute of limitations due to the high number of claims.
In 2018 and 2019, when California faced an overwhelming number of devastating fires, the California legislature implemented several amendments that extended the statute.
When it comes to McKinney Fire, the extension isn’t likely. That’s why delaying the claim isn’t a good idea. While authorities are deciding whether PacifiCorp is responsible for the fire, you have the time to hire an attorney and start collecting evidence to build a strong case.
The McKinney Fire Legal Updates
The U.S. Forest Service is still investigating the cause of the McKinney Fire. However, some victims have already filed claims against PacifiCorp. If you are one of the McKinney Fire victims, you don’t need to wait for an official declaration of negligence to file a lawsuit.
By starting legal action right now, you may be improving your chances of receiving fair compensation in the future. If you aren’t sure whether you have a case or how to proceed, consider speaking to a local McKinney fire attorney.