If you have been affected by a wildfire in California, you may be eligible for financial compensation for your losses, or damages. The damages you can recover compensation for will depend on the type and extent of the losses you suffered in the wildfire, as well as your available outlets for financial recovery. Determine the value of your wildfire case by consulting with an attorney at Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger. We will help you create a comprehensive list of your damages and pursue maximum financial compensation.
Property damage is one of the main losses associated with California wildfires. According to the Insurance Information Institute, wildfires in 2020 alone destroyed 4.3 million acres and impacted 10,500 structures. Wildfire property damage listed in an insurance claim or lawsuit can refer to damage from smoke, soot, flames, water, mudslides and more. The list of property damage suffered in a wildfire may include:
- House structural damage
- Damage to sheds, garages, barns, fences, etc.
- Landscaping damage
- Agricultural damage
- Restoration of pools or ponds
- Damage to personal property and possessions
- Family heirlooms or jewelry
- Electronics and appliances
- Business losses
In this damage category, you may also be able to list your personal and business expenses associated with the fire, such as the wages you lost from having to miss time at work or revenue lost due to a business interruption. You may also be eligible for financial compensation for your alternate living expenses while your home is being repaired, such as hotel or travel costs. Finally, you could recover any costs associated with wildfire evacuation.
The smoke from a wildfire can be devastating in itself. Smoke can contain hundreds of different chemicals and fumes from burned substances, such as house paint and metals. Breathing in the smoke from a wildfire can result in many physical injuries, such as:
- Respiratory tract irritation
- Poisoning from toxins
- Eye irritation
- Heart failure
- Premature death
Children, the elderly and pregnant women are the most vulnerable to injuries from smoke exposure in wildfires. Smoke can also cause property losses by permanently altering the color, smell or quality of personal possessions.
A wildfire can cause a wide range of serious to catastrophic physical injuries. Many of these injuries impact victims for life, such as from permanent scarring and disfigurement related to third-degree burns. In other cases, wildfire injuries are life-threatening and cause wrongful death. Common physical injuries associated with wildfires include:
- Burns and related complications
- Soft-tissue damage
- Eye injuries
- Nose, throat and lung injuries
- Amputations (traumatic or medical)
- Blast injuries
- Fatal injuries
Always go to a hospital immediately after a wildfire in California. Professional medical care can quickly diagnose fire-related injuries and administer life-saving treatment. Even if you initially feel fine, smoke inhalation may cause damage that you cannot see. Keep copies of your medical bills and documents to help support your wildfire injury claim.
Wildfire survivors can experience significant emotional distress and psychological harm related to the trauma of the event and painful or debilitating injuries. These losses are known as noneconomic or intangible damages in an insurance claim and may be eligible for financial compensation. Emotional injuries can encompass:
- Pain and suffering
- Discomfort or chronic pain
- Mental distress or anguish
- Psychological trauma
- Depression or anxiety
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Annoyance or inconvenience
- Long-term disability
- Lost quality of life
- Loss of consortium
- Grief or mourning
Compile a list of all the ways in which the wildfire impacted your life. Keep an injury journal where you describe your day-to-day struggles. See a doctor or psychiatrist about the mental and emotional repercussions of surviving a wildfire. Receiving an official diagnosis for a mental health condition could help you build a stronger claim.
The Death of a Loved One
The most destructive and dangerous wildfires in California cause the greatest losses of all: human lives. In 2020, 33 victims passed away in California wildfires. The deadliest wildfire in California’s history, the Camp Fire, took 85 lives in 2018. If your loved one passed away in a wildfire or due to related health complications, you may be entitled to financial compensation for wrongful death. Compensation may include:
- Reasonable funeral and burial expenses
- The loss of the decedent’s wages, employment benefits and future earnings
- Loss of the value of the decedent’s household services and contributions
- Lost parental love, guidance and support
- Lost spousal care, affection and company
- The family’s mental anguish
- The decedent’s pain and suffering
- Related medical bills property damage
In a California wildfire wrongful death lawsuit, surviving loved ones or the deceased person’s estate may be eligible for compensation to pay for these losses and more. Although no amount of money can make up for a wildfire death, a settlement or jury verdict can hold someone accountable and help a family receive closure.
Economic and noneconomic losses fall under the category of compensatory damages. Financial compensation received for these losses is meant to make a victim whole again. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are meant to punish a defendant for wrongful acts. Punitive damages are sometimes awarded by a judge in addition to compensatory damages in California if the victim’s injuries were caused by malice, fraud, extreme recklessness, intentional harm or oppression. If a person or party was reckless and this caused the wildfire that injured you, for example, you may receive punitive damages.
Obtaining Legal Advice Is Essential as a Wildfire Victim in California
Wildfire victims in California often have multiple outlets available for financial recovery. They may include a homeowners or renters’ insurance claim, a business insurance claim, a third-party liability lawsuit, and an inverse condemnation claim. Find out which type of claim you might have, as well as how much your wildfire lawsuit is worth, by contacting an experienced attorney as soon as possible.
If you were recently impacted by a wildfire in California, contact our attorneys for legal advice and assistance. While an insurance company may wish to devalue your losses and save money on your wildfire payout, an attorney will work hard to maximize your family’s financial recovery. At Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger, we will work diligently to recover the financial compensation that you deserve for wildfire damage. Contact us online or call (415) 981-7210 today to start with a free consultation.