We have found that most fire victims are underinsured; that is, property damage exceeds the amount of insurance coverage available to you. Your recovery may include monetary compensation for personal property damage, landscaping and destruction of trees, damage or loss of residential structures, cost of evacuation, annoyance and discomfort, loss of earnings and personal injury. Retaining legal counsel experienced in litigating fire related cases against public utility companies may assist in maximizing your recovery of damages. Here is what you need to know:
We seek recovery of losses that are not covered by your insurance company. Many fire victims find after rebuilding or repairing their property that the insurance proceeds do not fully compensate them for damages of rebuilding of their home, personal property and landscaping (including large trees). Landscaping coverage is usually a small portion of the overall insurance policy coverage that often excludes repairs for post fire erosion control and replacement of native vegetation and large trees.
The insurer will also likely not replace lost trees with trees of like size and maturity. For example, any large pine or fruit tree lost (or significantly damaged) will be replaced with seedlings, at best. We retain experts to determine the mature tree replacement value (usually $5,000-$50,000) per tree depending on the type, age and size of tree (i.e. Jeffrey Pine). These are underinsured damages.
In addition to the underinsured economic damages, we will make claims for uninsured damages such as annoyance damages and payment of attorney’s fees and costs which we have been able to recover in past fire cases.
We retain local arborists to tour the property and inspect damage to the landscaping and trees prior to removal of debris. Photographic evidence of the property post fire and before cleanup is essential.
We also retain landscape architects, real property appraisers and construction estimators. Each of these experts has significant experience assessing potential damages with respect to wildfires and determining the cost of repair and/or replacement and diminution in value of real property.
We do not take attorney’s fees on undisputed compensation you receive from your insurance company for rebuilding and repairs. Attorney’s fees are only received on compensation received for losses that your insurance policy does not cover o
claims that are disputed between you and your insurance company.
Destruction of Agricultural Crops, Native Trees, Vegetation and Residential Landscaping
Agricultural Crop Damage and Destruction:
California is one of the largest producers of agriculture in the United States. When crops are damaged or destroyed by wildfires that fire damage causes devastation to families as well as communities at large. Many farmers do not insure their crops and if the crops are destroyed by a wildfire the result can be financially devastating. Fruit trees often take years to mature and produce a significant yield. If destroyed, it can take years for a seedling to mature and produce fruit.
Native Trees and Vegetation:
When wildfire burns rural land it destroys much of the native landscape. When a wildfire destroys native landscape severe consequences occur including soil erosion, flooding, landslides and mudslides. Plant and tree roots provide stability to the soil and when the plants are destroyed the soil becomes un-stable, causing a greater chance of flooding and landslides. Insurance companies rarely provide compensation to repair and replace the natural environment destroyed. The cost to the landowner can be in the tens of thousands of dollars or more to restore the natural vegetation and remediate erosion.
Landscaping is a homeowner’s outdoor living space. When this space is damaged or destroyed by wildfire it can take years and significant expense to return it to its original pre-fire condition. We retain experienced arborists and landscape architects to determine the value of the trees and surrounding landscape and the resulting diminution in value to the property as a result of that loss.
Many fire victims believe that their insurance company will reimburse them for all damage and replacement cost of their structures (e.g. home, garage and outbuildings). It is usually incorrect that the insurance company will reimburse the homeowner for all expenses and damage caused from the fire. Many fire victims find that they are under-insured.
Under-insured losses may include (1) code upgrades and (2) uncovered and underinsured structures. Generally, the replacement of your structure costs significantly more than your homeowner insurance policy provides.
Personal property is often the largest under-insured damage. The replacement cost of your personal possessions is usually significantly higher than the compensation received from your homeowner insurance company. Many times insureds replacement costs are two to three times greater than the amount allotted through the insurance policy.
Evacuation and Additional Living Expense
Expenses incurred as a result of evacuation from fire include hotel costs, transportation, pet boarding, food and supplies.
Many victims of significant fire damage or destruction will be displaced from their home for months or even a year or more during the repair and rebuilding process. Often these expenses are not covered by insurance.
Annoyance and Discomfort Damage
These damages are NOT covered by your homeowner insurance policy. Homeowner insurance will not reimburse you for the annoyance and discomfort you sustain as a result of losing your home, moving, spending days, weeks and months repairing, rebuilding and replacing personal property. You will also not be reimbursed for the discomfort of losing irreplaceable family heirlooms. The only way to obtain compensation for these losses is to file a claim against the negligent parties. Often, you can win compensation for these losses at settlement or trial provided that the correct legal theories are claimed and the facts of your claim support those theories of liability.
For more information, please contact our Wildfire litigation attorneys at (855) 930-2626.