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Wildfire Negligence

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November 16, 2018
Edward Smith

All that is left for Paradise residents displaced by wildfire negligence is to rebuild. For those who lost loved ones, rebuilding will be a mix of determination and grief. The Camp Fire, which began on November 8, forced 52,000 people in Paradise to evacuate and took 56 lives with 300 unaccounted for as of November 15. In the end, the town of Paradise was destroyed by flames that many likened to hell. Now, residents and officials are looking into reports that the utility company, PG&E, reported problems 15 minutes before the fire officially broke out. As a Northern California neighbor, I would like to take this opportunity to express the sadness I feel for those caught in this disaster, particularly those who lost loved ones, and my fervent wish that you will find the strength to build anew.

Rebuilding After Wildfire Negligence

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently said that the devastation in Paradise is one of the worst he has ever witnessed. An agency spokesperson confirmed that this town in the Sierra Nevada foothills will need to be totally rebuilt but that it may take years to be completed. This comes as more bad news to those who lost everything. Some evacuees have been told that they might not be able to return for up to six months. In many instances, insurance coverage is not sufficient. Basically, there are two aspects to the cost of rebuilding:

  • Rebuilding itself: This involves replacing the dwelling.
  • Loss of use: This homeowner’s policy provision covers living costs when the owner’s home is deemed uninhabitable. This includes transportation costs, temporary shelter and the expenses linked to moving for a prescribed period. Loss of use is dependent on the amount of coverage originally purchased by the homeowner. If the loss of use coverage runs out, then the rebuilding financial trauma increases.

What a Homeowner Is Guaranteed Under Loss of Use

Most policies pay for what it costs to maintain the living situation the homeowner had before the fire. Basically, this means that if they lived in a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom house before, the displaced homeowner should be able to rent a comparable temporary residence. It is essential that receipts for all expenses are retained and submitted to the insurance company as soon as possible. Even such things as temporary transportation and food may be covered. Since rebuilding may take years, California currently gives homeowners 24 months before the loss of use coverage ends. In January 2019, this limit will be increased to 36 months.

Wildfire Negligence

Wildfire negligence exists when a person or entity acts in such a careless fashion that a fire is started. If wildfire negligence is proven, the person or entity is liable for the damages associated with the fire and will be called upon to pay compensation. The start of a wildfire can be due to a camper who fails to extinguish a fire or someone mowing their lawn at a time when this activity is banned due to prevailing wildfire conditions. It can also be due to someone throwing a lit cigarette into vegetation, using a barbecue without care or intentional acts such as arson. The fire may also result from safety violations and negligence by a utility company. Whatever the cause, as with other forms of negligence, evidence must be provided, linking the fire to errant acts or the failure to act.

Lawsuit Filed in Camp Fire

A lawsuit has already been filed against PG&E by those whose homes were destroyed or family members of those who were killed in the Camp Fire. This joins the hundreds of lawsuits filed in 2017. The lawsuit, filed on November 13,  contends that safety standards were violated by the utility company, resulting in wildfire negligence. The lawsuit is based on the report by the utility to regulators that they experienced problems immediately before the fire broke out. According to the report, the utility said that it experienced an outage at about 6:15 a.m. in the area within which the fire started. The first report by dispatchers was at 6:31 a.m. in vegetation immediately below PG&E high tension wires. While an investigation is currently underway, if PG&E is found to be negligent, they will be responsible for efforts to quell the fire and rebuilding costs.

Northern California Wildfire Compensation Lawyer

I’m Ed Smith, a Northern California Wildfire Compensation Lawyer. If you lost your home or a loved one due to a wildfire, call me for free and friendly advice. You can reach me at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400. It may be easier for you to contact me online. Just go to my web page at, and use my contact us page.

I’ve helped numerous residents in Northern California in the past 36 years obtain the compensation they deserve in all types of accidents, serious injuries, and wrongful deaths.

I am pleased to say that I belong to a forum of trial lawyers who have won over $1 million for a client known as the Million Dollar Advocates.

If you are thinking of retaining an injury lawyer, you should look at their practice ahead of time. You can see reviews by former clients and some of my peers as well as the way I resolved prior cases on the following pages:

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