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Recovering Damages After Wildfires

Residents of Lake County in Northern California have been chased out of their homes by an inferno that has blazed for days and continues to threaten the region. As flames raged, people were forced to abandon their most precious possessions -- and even pets -- in fear for their lives. Meanwhile, local vineyards and farms went up in smoke, leaving some without homes and even without jobs.

The destruction wrought by wildfires in Northern California is impossible to calculate emotionally and difficult to put a dollar sign on. Firefighters now estimate that almost 600 homes have been destroyed in the recent Valley Fire.

Will Homeowners' Insurance Cover the Losses?

Residents affected by the massive wildfires are in shock. Gathered in local motels, hotels, and Red Cross camps, they are trying to locate lost friends and family, horses and dogs, not doing math. But the time will soon come when they will have to face the administration that is inevitable after any disaster. They will have to rebuild and it will cost a lot.

Mark Bove, a senior research meteorologist for New Jersey-based Munich Reinsurance America, told Reuters that the Valley Fire may eventually represent the largest insurance loss due to a Northern California wildfire in a quarter century since a 1991 Oakland firestorm.

Homeowners' insurance generally covers fires but wildfires are unlike other blazes. The extent of destruction is vast and standard insurance is unlikely to provide the kind of coverage that will allow people to replace their valuables with the same or similar items.

Take trees, for example. Often, an insurance claim will allow for replacement saplings but will not provide a growth of the same age and value as those trees destroyed by fire. This represents an enormous loss that, unfortunately, may only be recoverable with a lawsuit. And for that, there must be someone to blame.

When Is Legal Action Necessary?

In extreme situations, adequate compensation for physical and emotional damage may only be available after litigation. When a fire is found to be started by human causes -- either by an individual or a business, on purpose or through negligence -- a wildfire litigator will advocate for victims of the blaze, seeking recovery for emotional injury as well as for property damage.

Of course, playing the blame game does not help firefighters still battling the persistent flames of the Valley Fire. Today, the residents of Lake County are still just collecting themselves, bracing for the difficult task of having to sift through ashes.

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