California has experienced some of the most devastating wildfires in history, leaving behind a trail of destruction and loss for countless families and communities. Many of these wildfires were caused by negligent actions of individuals, corporations, or government entities. Victims of wildfires often face immense financial, emotional, and physical challenges.
If you or someone you know has been affected by a California wildfire and believe that someone else is responsible, you may be entitled to compensation. At Bridgford, Gleason & Artinian, our team of experienced attorneys can help you navigate the complex process of wildfire litigation and fight for the justice and compensation you deserve. Contact us today for your free consultation.
What is California Wildfire Litigation?
California Wildfire Litigation refers to the legal actions taken by individuals, groups, and entities who have suffered losses or damages as a result of wildfires that occur in California. These wildfires can be caused by various factors such as human negligence, utility company equipment failure, or natural causes. The litigation process typically involves filing lawsuits against those deemed responsible for causing the wildfires to seek compensation for damages, such as property loss or personal injury. The lawsuits can be complex and involve multiple parties, including victims, insurance companies, government agencies, and utility companies.
What Can I Recover in a California Wildfire Litigation Claim?
Damages is the legal term referring to the compensation a victim can claim if they can prove that a wildfire led to physical, emotional, or financial injuries. At Bridgford, Gleason & Artinian, 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 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 the 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.
There have been several successful California Wildfire Litigations against utility companies, including:
- In 2020, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) agreed to pay $13.5 billion in damages to victims of wildfires caused by its equipment in 2017 and 2018.
- In 2021, PG&E also agreed to pay $43 million in damages to victims of the 2015 Butte Fire, which was caused by a tree that fell onto a power line.
- Southern California Edison has also faced lawsuits related to wildfires, such as the 2018 Woolsey Fire, which burned over 96,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,600 structures.
Expert Testimony in California Wildfire Litigation Claims
We retain local arborists to tour the property and inspect the damage to the landscaping and trees prior to the 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 the value of real property.
Strict Liability in California Wildfire Litigation Claims
Strict liability in California Wildfire Litigation means that a defendant can be held responsible for wildfire damages even if they were not negligent in their actions. This means that the plaintiff does not have to prove that the defendant was careless or acted with intent to harm, but only that their actions or products caused the wildfire.
Strict liability is a legal doctrine that has been developed to protect individuals and communities from harm caused by inherently dangerous activities or products. The rationale behind strict liability is that the party engaging in the activity or producing the product has more control over its safety than the individuals who are harmed by it, and therefore should be held responsible for any harm caused.
In California, strict liability can apply to utility companies in cases where their equipment, such as power lines or transformers, caused or contributed to a wildfire. Under strict liability, the utility company can be held responsible for damages caused by the wildfire, even if they followed all safety regulations and acted responsibly in maintaining their equipment.
It is important to note that strict liability is not automatic in California Wildfire Litigation. Plaintiffs must still provide evidence linking the defendant’s actions or products to the wildfire and damages caused.
California Public Utilities Commission
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) plays a significant role in California Wildfire Litigation. The CPUC is the state agency responsible for regulating utility companies, including those that provide electricity and gas service. CPUC’s role includes:
- Safety regulations: The CPUC establishes and enforces safety regulations related to the operation and maintenance of utility infrastructure, including power lines and transformers. These regulations are designed to prevent wildfires caused by utility equipment failures.
- Investigations: The CPUC can investigate utility companies to determine whether they have violated safety regulations or contributed to wildfires. These investigations can provide evidence for legal actions taken by other parties, such as individual lawsuits or government enforcement actions.
- Enforcement actions: The CPUC can take enforcement actions against utility companies that violate safety regulations, such as fines or penalties. These actions can also provide evidence for legal actions taken by other parties.
- Rate-setting: The CPUC is responsible for setting utility rates for customers. In some cases, the CPUC may adjust rates to reflect the costs of wildfire damages, which can affect the financial liability of utility companies for wildfire damages.
Our Fee Structure for California Wildfire Litigation Claims
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 claims that are disputed between you and your insurance company.
Contact Our California Wildfire Litigation Attorney Today
If you or a loved one has been impacted by a California wildfire, it is important to understand your legal options. The aftermath of a wildfire can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to face it alone. At Bridgford, Gleason & Artinian, our California Wildfire Litigation attorneys have the knowledge, experience, and resources to fight for your rights and help you rebuild your life. We are here to help you navigate the legal process and seek the compensation you deserve. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation and learn how we can help you hold responsible parties accountable for the damages caused by the wildfire. Don’t wait, reach out to us today to get the help you need.