California Wildfire Lawsuits
Last year, California’s Camp Fire killed 85 people and destroyed an estimated $16.5 billion in private and business property. According to most estimates, as much as $4 billion of those property losses were uninsured. It was later determined that the fire was caused when sparks from a downed power line belonging to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) ignited dry underbrush. With high winds being forecast to last at least until Monday evening, the state is bracing for even more damaging wildfires.
Although many California wildfire victims are unaware of the legal options that may be available, under existing California law a utility company is liable for the consequences of a wildfire if it can be shown that a utility’s employees, its fixed or movable equipment, or its power lines/gas lines were the immediate cause of a wildfire. The legal doctrine that applies to California wildfire losses is known as inverse condemnation.
In law, inverse condemnation usually occurs when a city, county or state government takes private property without paying the property owner fair compensation for the value of that property. When this occurs, or if the compensation offered is felt to be less than the property’s value, the property owner has the right to file a lawsuit in order to obtain a fair settlement of their dispute. Under the law, “taking” need not be restricted to physical possession: merely depriving the owner of access to, or the use of, a property may be grounds for an inverse condemnation lawsuit.
In California, as in other states, a public utility company (e.g. Pacific Gas & Electric or San Diego Gas & Electric) can also be sued in an inverse condemnation lawsuit and can be ordered to pay damages if the company is found to have caused the event, such as a wildfire or natural gas line explosion, that led to a property loss. This liability extends to personal injury and even to wrongful death cases that can be linked to wildfires and other such disasters.
Given the tremendous losses that have occurred due to wildfires, California courts and juries are generally sympathetic to plaintiffs in inverse condemnation lawsuits. Although no lawsuit settlement can ever fully compensate wildfire victims, these lawsuits are often the only avenue available to the private citizen who has been victimized by a multi-billion-dollar corporation
In rare cases a city, county or California state agency/entity may have been at fault in causing a wildfire. In most such cases, a court may find such governmental units liable for the consequences of its negligence. However, if the defendant in your lawsuit is a city, county or state agency, the provisions of the California Tort Claims Act can dramatically affect your ability to file a lawsuit.
The procedures specified by the California Tort Claims Act must be followed exactly as set forth by law or you will forever lose your legal right to be compensated for your losses. Specifically, you must file a claim within six months with the government agency you believe to have been responsible for your losses. If you miss this deadline, for whatever reason, the California courts will dismiss (“throw out”) your lawsuit and you will never be allowed to refile your case with another court! There are, of course, other provisions of the Tort Claims Act that must also be followed. Given the technical complexity of complying with the Tort Claims Act, anyone considering a lawsuit against a government or a government agency in California is encouraged to contact a California personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after a wildfire-related injury occurs!
Filing a lawsuit in California is never as simple as you may think. There are literally dozens of local and state laws that could affect everything from the length of time in which a lawsuit must be filed to who you can sue for your injuries and other losses. To protect your legal right to demand compensation from those responsible for your losses, your first step should be to contact an experienced California personal injury lawyer. One such lawyer is the California personal injury lawyer at The Doan Law Firm, a statewide law practice with offices located throughout California.
When you contact the California personal injury lawyer at The Doan Law Firm, your case review and first consultation with our staff is always free and does not obligate you in any way to hire our firm as your legal representative. After reviewing the facts in your case and the California laws that may apply, our attorney will suggest a course of action that will best serve your personal interests. Should you decide that a lawsuit against those responsible for your losses is in order, we are willing to assume full responsibility for all aspects of preparing your case for trial in exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of the final settlement that we will win for you.
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