Each year in California and across the U.S., hundreds of thousands of acres are burned by wildfires. Unfortunately, these fires also destroy thousands of structures, resulting in injuries and deaths. There are many causes of wildfires and many potential sources of liability when a fire results in property damage, injury, or even death. In one year, the cost of damage caused by wildfires in the nation topped out at over $11.2 billion.
What can you sue for after a fire? If you’ve been injured, lost a loved one, or lost your home or business as the result of a wildfire that was caused by someone’s carelessness, you can seek compensation for the financial and emotional impacts of your injury or loss by filing a claim against the at-fault party’s relevant insurance policy. An experienced California wildfire lawyer can help you understand this process and the important role that an attorney plays in your ability to obtain the compensation you need.
What Causes Wildfires?
Human-caused fires often begin as a result of careless actions such as:
- Failing to completely extinguish a campfire.
- Lit cigarettes thrown on the ground or out the window of a moving vehicle.
- Individuals or businesses burning trash, ditches, fields, or slash piles.
- Arson and illegal or unauthorized burning.
- Issues involving vehicles, including aircraft or car accidents, flat tires, malfunctioning brakes, or vehicle parts dragging along the roadway while the vehicle is in use.
- Individuals playing with matches, lighters, or fireworks.
- Activities that involve shooting ammo or exploding targets.
- Defective power lines or electrical transformers.
- Blasting operations.
The Types of Wildfire Damage that You Can Seek Compensation For
Property Damage Claims
Property damage is the most common type of damage incurred in a wildfire, with thousands of structures—including homes and businesses—destroyed each year in California alone. According to a recent report, an estimated 776,000 homes are at extreme risk fire destruction. California’s major metropolitan areas make up most of the locations with the most homes at extreme risk.
Those areas include:
- Los Angeles, where 121,589 households face high to extreme wildfire risk.
- Riverside, where there is high to extreme wildfire risk for 108,787 households
- San Diego, with 75,096 households categorized as high to extreme risk.
- Sacramento, with 68,056 categorized as having high to extreme risk of wildfire destruction.
- San Francisco, where 32,174 homes are at high to extreme risk.
- Truckee, with 31,987 homes at high to extreme risk.
- Oxnard, where 19,555 homes are in areas with high to extreme wildfire risk.
- Redding, with 21,057 homes at high to extreme wildfire risk.
Individuals who have lost their homes or businesses due to a wildfire resulting from natural causes, such as lightning, can generally seek coverage for their property losses through a claim against their homeowner’s or business owner’s insurance policy. The compensation you can receive includes the costs of rebuilding or repairing your home, remediating smoke damage, replacing destroyed outbuildings, replacing your belongings—including your vehicle— and providing lodging until your home is livable.
Business owners who have had their office or store destroyed by a wildfire can seek coverage of the cost of replacing or repairing office space, equipment, and inventory, and—depending on your policy—can also seek coverage of the additional expenses incurred as a result of an interruption to your business.
If a fire investigation determines that the fire resulted from human carelessness, you can seek compensation from a liability insurance policy held by the at-fault party.
The insurance provider who services this policy will review the claim and respond in one of three ways:
- By accepting that their insured was liable for the damage and processing the claim for payment.
- Offering to settle the claim out of court for less than its established value.
- Denying the claim and providing a reason for the denial in writing to the claimant.
If the insurance provider fails to compensate the claim, you can file property damage lawsuit. California has a three-year statute of limitations on such claims.
Personal Injury Claims
When someone is injured due to a wildfire caused by the negligence of an individual or company, they can seek compensation through the personal injury claims process. Like the property damage claim process, the personal injury claims process generally begins with a claim filed against the at-fault party’s insurance provider.
If the at-fault party’s insurance provider doesn’t pay the claim, it can be filed in court as a lawsuit. The statute of limitations on personal injury claims in California is two years from the date of the injury in most cases.
The type of compensation that is available through the personal injury claims process includes:
- All expenses related to the medical treatment of the injury incurred due to the fire.
- Wage loss stemming from days of work missed due to the injury.
- Loss of future earning capacity if the injuries incurred in the wildfire caused permanent disabilities that impair the claimant’s ability to earn an income.
- Property damage incurred in the wildfire.
- Non-economic impacts of the injury, such as physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, and loss of the enjoyment of life.
Wrongful Death Claims
When an individual dies due to a wildfire caused by a careless or reckless individual or company, the deceased’s family members can benefit from a wrongful death claim.
The following individuals can file this claim:
- The spouse or domestic partner of the decedent.
- The decedent’s children.
- If the decedent’s children are deceased, the decedent’s grandchildren can file the claim.
- If there is no surviving spouse, children, or grandchildren, other family members who would be entitled to the decedent’s property through intestate succession laws can file the claim.
Wrongful death claimants in California must file their claim two years from the decedent’s death.
They can seek compensation for the expenses and impacts of their loss, such as:
- The loss of financial support and services the decedent provided for their family members and the loss of future support they would have likely received from the decedent if they had survived their injuries.
- The loss of gifts and benefits the decedent gave to their family members.
- The loss of the decedent’s love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, society, guidance, and moral support.
- The decedent’s spouse or domestic partner’s loss of physical intimacy.
What Is the Statute of Limitations, and Why Is It Important?
The Services a California Wildfire Lawyer Can Provide
These services can include:
- A free case evaluation, which is a no-obligation conversation with an attorney where a claimant can talk about their case, explore the legal options available to them, and learn more about the attorney’s role in that process.
- An investigation of the details of the fire to determine who was liable for causing it and the type of insurance resources the at-fault party has that can provide compensation.
- The determination of a value to the claim, which is how much the claimant is seeking for the expenses and impacts of their injury. In personal injury claims, the claim’s value is typically not determined until the claimant has reached maximum medical improvement, which is when the claimant’s physical injury has stabilized, and they are not likely to make any additional recovery progress, even if treatments continue.
- Submitting the claim with the at-fault party’s insurer and maintaining contact with the insurance claims adjuster to negotiate a settlement that fairly compensates the claimant.
- Providing the claimant with the information they need to make decisions about their claim that reflect their best interests. Attorneys cannot make decisions for the claimant, but they can provide guidance to help them understand how their claim is valued, what a fair settlement for their claim would look like and the risks and benefits of filing a lawsuit.
- Filing the appropriate type of lawsuit in civil court within the state’s statute of limitations.
- Gathering the evidence and medical documentation needed to prove liability, expenses, and impacts.
- Attending all court-ordered hearings, responding to motions, and filing motions in preparation for trial.
- Litigation services.
- Assistance collecting compensation owed to the claimant as a result of a negotiated settlement or court award.
Wildfire Victim? Contact an Experienced California Wildfire Attorney
Look for an experienced legal team that understands California wildfires’ devastating financial and emotional impacts on residents, businesses, and communities—someone who has helped thousands of people like you for assistance seeking compensation for damages, injuries, and losses from dangerous and deadly fires. Let an experienced wildfire lawyer help you understand your rights while navigating the claims process. You can start with your free case evaluation, or reach out to a personal injury lawyer.