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The Thomas Fire set the record as the most damaging wildfire in California’s history. It destroyed more than 280,000 acres of land that included neighborhoods, homes, and businesses before being contained and forced more than 100,000 residents in the affected areas to evacuate. Reliable legal representation from a trustworthy attorneys is essential for recovering any financial losses as a result of the fire. The attorneys at Panish | Shea | Ravipudi LLP have helped clients in the Los Angeles area recover billions of dollars in compensation for damages since our firm’s beginnings.
Thomas Fire Damage Info and Statistics
California’s generally dry climate is an unfortunate catalyst for many wildfires in the state. The Thomas Fire grew to record-setting size thanks to extremely dry conditions in the area and high winds that continually fed the flames as they burned through more than 50 square miles of California land. Investigative officials have identified the dry conditions and high winds as major contributing factors in the damage. However, the original cause of the fire remains unknown.
In total, the record-setting fire cost $177 million in firefighting costs by December 24 of 2017. The blaze completely destroyed 1,063 structures and another 280 suffered significant damage. Investigators reported more than $120 million in property damage in Santa Barbara County, and one firefighter died from smoke inhalation on December 14 of 2017 while fighting the fire.
The blaze also led to several mudslides in the area. As vegetation burned away, the stability of several mountain slopes suffered. As a result, 17 people were killed by mudslides in the Montecito area as heavy rain arrived. The top layers of the ground become more susceptible to runoff after a fire destroys organic soil and vegetation. Unfortunately, the Montecito area was directly in the path of this debris flow.
Residents Sue Utility Companies in California
Several California attorneys currently represent more than 500 California residents in a class action lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric, a utility company serving most of Northern California. The lawsuit alleges that Pacific Gas & Electric may have negligently contributed to the Thomas fire. Pacific Gas & Electric owns an electrical infrastructure in the area, and the plaintiffs claim the Thomas fire started when this structure came into contact with nearby vegetation. Pacific Gas & Electric owned the land and is therefore responsible for maintaining the vegetation in the area.
Another California utility company, Southern California Edison, is also facing legal action from California residents. The lawsuit against Southern California Edison alleges that negligent practices at one of the company’s construction sites caused the fire in the Santa Paula foothills. Several Southern California Edison power poles in the area suffered extensive damage, and the company began efforts to have the damaged structures removed. However, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Southern California Edison secured a restraining order preventing the company from removing their electrical structures from the area, citing their removal as possible destruction or obfuscation of evidence of the fire’s origin.
How Can an Attorney Help Me?
Anyone affected by the Thomas fire likely has an array of concerns including securing new housing, managing transportation, caring for displaced children, and initiating insurance claims. There are several ways an attorney can help in such a situation, and the team at Panish | Shea | Ravipudi LLP is here to help.
The first major concern most homeowners will have after a wildfire is securing a payout on the home insurance policy. It is important to remember that an insurer will only cover damages expressly listed in the policy. The policy may contain specific wording that outlines what types of fire damages qualify for coverage, if it does in fact cover fire damage. The policyholder may not be able to file a claim unless the policy specifically states wildfires as covered events.
Filing an insurance claim is also a very complex process, and it’s crucial to retain any and all evidence that supports a claim. Take care to preserve any evidence, correspondence, or receipts that prove your losses and strengthen the validity of your claim after a disastrous wildfire. Insurance companies investigate claims made by policyholders to ensure they are factual and fall under the purview of the policy in question. They may look for any reasons they can find to reduce or deny a claim but must do so in good faith.
Bad Faith Insurance
“Bad faith” insurance refers to unethical practices by insurance companies and their employees. This can include lying to a policyholder, failing to provide reasonable justification for lowering or denying a claim, falsifying evidence, intimidation tactics, or any other unreasonable behavior. If an insurance company or claims adjuster fails to act in good faith, the policyholder needs a reliable attorney to handle the situation and reach a fair settlement. Having your attorney simply send a formal letter to your insurance company stating that you suspect bad faith is enough to encourage a more agreeable settlement discussion in some cases.
Possible Claims After a Wildfire
An attorney can help with several possible types of claims after a wildfire like the Thomas fire. Legal representation can help an injured victim secure compensation from other channels in addition to handling bad faith insurance practices. Victims can file civil actions against the at-fault party for their damages if anyone contributed to or caused the fire. The two aforementioned class action lawsuits against Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison are great examples of such legal recourse.
An attorney can help you file a lawsuit of your own or provide you with instructions for joining a class action lawsuit as an additional plaintiff. Class action lawsuits allow many plaintiffs who suffered similar losses from the same source to essentially pool their legal resources into a single case. This allows the legal process to move much faster than it would with thousands of individual claims, but the downside is that claimants typically receive a smaller settlement award. Usually, the plaintiffs will divide the total settlement evenly among all members of the class action suit.
Value of a Wildfire Claim
Your insurer will want to know the exact cost of the damages when you file an insurance claim for a wildfire. Some discrepancies can arise between the cost of replacement and “actual cash value,” and it’s up to policyholders to carefully review their insurance agreements to understand what is covered, and what methods the insurance companies use to value claims.
If you’re curious about your options for legal recourse following a California wildfire, contact the team at Panish | Shea | Ravipudi LLP. Our attorneys have helped clients in the Los Angeles area secure more than $10 billion in verdicts and settlements since our firm’s beginnings, and we can put that experience to work for your claim.