Wildfire Wrongful Death Claims in California

Posted on September 15, 2021

A death under any circumstances is a tragedy. If the death could have been prevented, however, it can be even more difficult for surviving loved ones to cope with the loss. Wildfires can often be prevented with due care by electric companies, utility companies, property owners and others. If someone you loved recently passed away in a California wildfire, please contact Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP for a free wrongful death consultation with a California wildfire lawyer. We hope to help you and your family by holding a wrongdoer accountable.

California Wildfires Are Deadly

Every year, California experiences wildfires that cause a great deal of losses – both in property damage and human lives. Throughout history, wildfires in California have caused significant injuries and deaths. According to data from CAL FIRE, the top 10 deadliest wildfires in California’s history are:

  1. Camp Fire: 85 deaths
  2. Griffith Park Fire: 29 deaths
  3. Tunnel – Oakland Hills Fire: 25 deaths
  4. Tubbs Fire: 22 deaths
  5. North Complex Fire: 15 deaths
  6. Cedar Fire: 15 deaths
  7. Rattlesnake Fire: 15 deaths
  8. Loop Fire:12 deaths
  9. Hauser Creek Fire: 11 deaths
  10. Inaja Fire: 11 deaths

The deadliest fire in California’s history, the Camp Fire, started in Butte County on November 8, 2018. It destroyed about 153,000 acres and 18,800 structures, creating a total of about $10 billion in insurance losses. The most devastating losses, however, were the 85 lives taken. An investigation found that the cause of the fire was power equipment owned by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). Although nothing can make up for the tragic loss of life, the families of the 85 victims may be eligible for financial compensation from PG&E.

California Wrongful Death Laws

If you lost a loved one in a wildfire in California under any circumstances, you may be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit in pursuit of financial compensation for the damages suffered by your family and the deceased individual’s estate. It will be up to you or your attorney, however, to prove your wrongful death case based on a preponderance of the evidence. This is enough clear and convincing evidence to establish that the defendant(s) is more likely to be at fault than not at fault for your loved one’s death.

Below are three of the most important wrongful death laws to know in California:

  1. Definition of wrongful death. According to California Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.60, wrongful death is a lawsuit brought for the death of a person due to the wrongful act or neglect of another individual or entity. A wrongful death claim can be brought in California after a negligence-related accident, malpractice or intent to harm.
  2. Rules on who can file. State law in California only allows certain people to file a wrongful death lawsuit: the deceased individual’s surviving spouse or domestic partner, surviving children, and/or surviving grandchildren of a deceased child. If these parties do not exist, anyone who is entitled to the decedent’s property by the rules of intestate succession or who can prove that they were financially dependent on the decedent may file. 
  3. Statute of limitations. A statute of limitations is a law that gives a plaintiff a deadline to file a civil cause of action. In California, the statute of limitations on a wrongful death lawsuit is two years from the date of death, in most cases. If you wish to bring a wrongful death suit against a government agency, however, you will most likely have less time to file.

It can be difficult to navigate California’s wrongful death laws without assistance from an experienced attorney. One misstep could interfere with your ability to recover financial compensation for a death arising from a California wildfire. An attorney can make sure that you obey all of California’s related laws and procedures for bringing a wrongful death lawsuit against one or more parties.

Who Is Liable for a Wildfire-Related Death?

Before your family can recover financial compensation for a wildfire death, you or your lawyer must establish liability. Liability in most wildfire claims is placed on the person or party who was negligent or reckless in starting or failing to prevent the fire. Negligence means to act carelessly or unreasonably in a way that places others at a foreseeable risk of harm. If an electric company fails to properly inspect its powerlines, for example, this can create a foreseeable risk of wildfires caused by faulty equipment.

In a wrongful death suit, the burden of proof to establish the elements of negligence rests with the filing party. The three elements of proof are duty of care, breach of duty and causation. A duty of care is an obligation to act in a manner that is reasonable according to the circumstances. A breach of duty can refer to any action or omission that falls short of the accepted duties of care. Causation refers to the defendant’s breach of duty being the proximate cause of the injury or death in question. 

Your family may need to wait until an investigation determines the cause of the wildfire that took your loved one’s life. The top causes of the deadliest fires in California’s history are powerlines, electrical problems, human errors, arson, lightning and vehicles. Once the cause of the fire is determined, a lawyer may be able to file a wrongful death action against a negligent party or parties on your behalf. 

What Is the Fire Victim Trust?

The number of lawsuits brought against PG&E made the company file for bankruptcy in 2019. On July 1, 2020, PG&E’s Debtors’ Plan of Reorganization became effective and created the Fire Victim Trust. The Trust is responsible for evaluating and resolving claims from the Butte Fire, North Bay Fires and Camp Fire. If your family is eligible for economic and noneconomic damages for a death related to any of these fires, you could receive compensation from the Trust for funeral and burial costs, lost earnings, loss of consortium, mental anguish, medical expenses, and more.

Contact the Wrongful Death Attorneys at Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP

Many deadly California wildfires can be prevented with a reasonable amount of care by electric companies, businesses and individuals. If you recently lost a loved one in a wildfire in California, please don’t hesitate to contact Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP for a free legal consultation. Our wrongful death attorneys can help you and your family during this difficult time by providing legal advice and aggressive representation when you need it the most. Call (805) 210-8528 for assistance today.

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If you have a legal matter you would like to discuss with an attorney from our firm, please call us at (310) 477-1700 or complete and submit the e-mail form below, and we will get back to you.

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