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If a wildfire destroys your home, can you sue?

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The Mokelumne Fire in Alpine County, the Willow Fire in Amador County, and the massive Soberanes Fire in Monterey County are just a few of the many active wildfires burning in California right now.

Although many wildfires strike rural areas, they can hit more populated communities. Oakland and Berkeley residents know this all too well, thanks to the Tunnel fire that destroyed more than 2,800 homes and 437 apartments and condominiums in 1991.

If a wildfire damages your home or property, not all is lost. Your homeowners' insurance may cover damage by wildfire. In California, however, especially in wildfire-prone areas, most insurers will only cover accidental house fires. Is there any other recourse?

Possibly. If an individual or business started the fire, whether on purpose or accidentally, you may be able to file a negligence claim.

If arson caused the fire, and authorities found the arsonist, you could theoretically sue the person that started the fire. His insurer would be the entity with the "deep pockets." The insurer would likely deny coverage because it was a criminal act, which is excluded from coverage. However, it's worth discussing the situation with a personal injury attorney, because other factors may come into play.

If an individual accidentally caused the fire-by not fully extinguishing a campfire, for example-and authorities could prove that individual negligently started the fire, you may have grounds to file a claim against that person and/or his insurer. If the individual has homeowner's insurance, you will have better luck in recouping damages.

In a third, less likely scenario, you may have a claim against a governmental entity, such as a state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection or a state or regional Parks Department. If, while caring for or maintaining the area, that entity created a condition that made the area susceptible to fire, there could be grounds for a claim.

Each of these scenarios comes with complex conditions and requires extensive investigation and research. If a wildfire damaged your home, your property, or you, and you suspect you have a claim, contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible.

U.S. Forest Service photo by Kari Greer.

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David G. Smith, Attorney At Law
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Oakland, CA 94612

Phone: 925-308-6484
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