Wildfire Litigation Lawyers

Wildfire Litigation Lawyers

Wildfire Litigation & Law

This summer, wildfires are going to spring up all over the United States. They’re going to happen the summer after that, and the summer after that.

Wildfires are the new reality, and they aren’t unique to California any longer. Click on states below to learn more about wildfires and wildfire attorneys in each state.

Alabama Alaska Arizona Arkansas California
Colorado Connecticut Delaware Florida Georgia
Hawaii Idaho Illinois Indiana Iowa
Kansas Kentucky Louisiana Maine Maryland
Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota Mississippi Missouri
Montana Nebraska Nevada New Hampshire New Jersey
New Mexico New York North Carolina North Dakota Ohio
Oklahoma Oregon Pennsylvania Rhode Island South Carolina
South Dakota Tennessee Texas Utah Vermont
Virginia Washington West Virginia Wisconsin Wyoming

Of the ten largest wildfires in United States history, four happened in California (August Complex Fire, Dixie Fire, Mendocino Complex Fire, 2020 California Wildfire Season). However, the 2004 Taylor Complex Fire happened in Alaska and the 2013 Yarnell Hill Wildfire happened in Arizona. Add to that the Hermits Creek/Calf Canyon Fire in New Mexico, the fires that overwhelmed Oregon recently, the fires in Colorado that burned large portions of the state…it’s become a nation issue.

California wildfires are unfortunately well-known. The Camp Fire, Tubbs Fire, Bay Area Fire, Oakland Hills Fire and others are reported on nationally. Western States, including the ones mentioned above, have become an increasing problem.

Colorado wildfires have increased in the last 15 years, with the High Park Fire and Waldo Canyon Sire in 2012, and the Black Forest Fire in 2013 grabbing headlines. Other western, southwestern and midwestern states have joined the party. Kansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, Texas, Montana, and Utah are seeing fires as a regular part of wildfire season. East coast states such as South Carolina, North Carolina and Florida all saw wildfire seasons in the 2000’s, but they haven’t had as many issues the last 15 years or so.

What Causes U.S. Wildfires?

Two Things cause U.S. wildfires, drought and/or dry conditions as well as a “spark.”

Right now, there is a serious drought from Texas up into Canada. This drought has been going for some time. That leaves grass, trees, underbrush and other potential fuel ready to burn.

The second part is where wildfire litigation has mostly focused – the spark. For most California fires, as well as some others, poorly maintained equipment owned and operated by large utilities has been discovered to be the cause.

Wildfire Litigation and Utilities

While not all wildfires are started by utilities, the deadliest ones often are. A report from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center reported that fires started by downed power lines often begin with high winds. Those high winds are already drying out foliage, and once the fires start, they help the fire spread quicker. According to the report “the conditions that cause power lines to start wildfires are the exact same conditions that make them spread rapidly and make them hard to contain.”

Wildfire litigation then involves suing utilities, attempting to hold them responsible for:

  • Deaths
  • Injuries
  • Destroyed structures – including homes, office buildings, businesses, schools, government buildings, and more

Damage to public lands – this includes roads, highways and other public structures damaged
Those losses can add up to almost unimaginable dollar amounts.

  • San Diego Gas and Electric paid $2.4 billion for one wildfire
  • Pacific Gas & Electric paid $2.5 billion
  • The fires in Northern California are expected to total $10 billion in payouts for damages
  • One site showed there was more than $16 billion awarded for the 2015 Butte, 2017 North Bay and 2018 Camp Fires.

State Wildfire Laws

In order to help people recover and rebuild form a wildfire that has destroyed land, damaged structures, killed people and injured others, various states have passed laws to protect citizens.

California’s Public Utilities Commission continues to investigate the role utilities companies play in these devastating fires. Those finding impact how different laws are written, as well as how cases are litigated by fire attorneys.

One California law passed in 2022 requires insurance companies to give discounts to homes and businesses to help defer costs. This was considered the nation’s first wildfire safety regulation.

There is little to no federal law governing wildfires, and those that do exist are often focused more on preventing fires, taking care of first responders, and conserving public lands.

In New Mexico, the federal government was actually responsible for starting the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fires and Floods.

Federal authorities were carrying out a “controlled burn” project which is when firefighters burn land on purpose with the goal of eliminating excess fuel so wildfires don’t get out of hand. The tragic irony was that this led to the largest wildfire in New Mexico history.

Seasonal winds on April 6, 2022 caused spot fires to ignite outside the supposed boundary. This fire went on for weeks, growing 10,000 acres per day. The fire wasn’t considered “contained” until August 21, more than four months after it began. 341,471 acres total were burned in this fire, and when rains did come, floods destroyed even more.

Wildfire Claims & Recovery

The process to file a wildfire insurance claim and actually receive a recovery may vary depending on your insurance company and policy, so it’s important to review your policy and contact your insurance provider for specific instructions. However, here are some steps that are commonly involved in making a wildfire insurance claim:

  1. Safety first: Ensure your safety and the safety of others before assessing the damage or starting the claims process. Follow all evacuation orders and cooperate with emergency responders.
  2. Contact your insurance company: Notify your insurance company as soon as possible after the wildfire event. Most insurance companies have a claims department or a dedicated claims hotline you can contact. Provide them with the necessary details about the wildfire, including the date, time, and location.
  3. Document the damage: Take photographs or videos of the damaged areas, including both the structural damage to your property and any belongings that were affected. Make a detailed list of the damaged or destroyed items, including their estimated value, if possible.
  4. Prevent further damage: If it’s safe to do so, take steps to prevent further damage to your property. This might involve covering damaged areas with tarps or boarding up broken windows.
  5. Obtain necessary documentation: Gather any relevant documents that can support your claim, such as your insurance policy, inventory lists, receipts, and any receipts or invoices for repairs or temporary living expenses.
  6. Understand your coverage: Familiarize yourself with the coverage limits, deductibles, and any exclusions in your insurance policy. This will help you understand what expenses may be covered and what may not.
  7. Keep records of expenses: Maintain a record of all expenses related to the wildfire, including temporary accommodations, meals, and other costs incurred during the recovery process. These expenses may be eligible for reimbursement under your policy.
  8. Contact a wildfire attorney: At this point, you may want to consider discussing your wildfire insurance claim with a lawyer. An experienced law firm may be able to help you strengthen your claim or avoid costly & time-consuming mistakes.
  9. Cooperate with the insurance company: Be prepared to work closely with the insurance adjuster assigned to your claim. They may visit the property to assess the damage and verify your claim. Provide any additional documentation or information they request in a timely manner.