Types of Compensation in Wildfire Claims

Posted on September 29, 2021

Every year, wildfires ravage California, leading to billions of dollars in property damage and personal losses. Most wildfires are preventable and trace back to human errors, such as electric company negligence. Negligence can allow wildfire victims to bring lawsuits against the at-fault parties in pursuit of financial compensation for their losses. With a successful wildfire insurance claim or lawsuit in California, you and your family may be able to recover compensation for the following damages, and more.

Property Damage

Property destruction is a significant part of wildfire damage. According to statistics from the Insurance Information Institute, in 2020 alone, 58,950 wildfires burned about 10.1 million acres of land in California. 2020 had 6 of the top 20 largest wildfires in California’s history. These include the August Complex Fire and the Lightning Complex Fire. A wildfire can cost victims an immense amount in property damage, such as: 

  • Loss of a family home
  • Loss of structures, such as sheds and barns
  • Loss of a business
  • Loss of personal possessions
  • Loss of items of sentimental value
  • Roof collapse
  • Melting
  • Plumbing damage
  • Water damage
  • Electrical damage
  • Smoke damage
  • Damage to landscaping and trees
  • Agricultural damage
  • Deaths or injuries to pets or livestock

Even if a wildfire does not completely burn down a structure, the damage from smoke, fire and water from a fireman’s house can be enough to cause substantial and irreversible property damage. This includes water damage, wood rot, mold and smoke damage. You may be eligible for financial compensation to pay for property repairs or replacement. 

Since pets and animals are property under California law, these are compensable losses within this damage category, as well. This may include the loss of horses, cattle, farm animals and domestic animals. In addition to replacing the monetary value of injured or deceased pets, an insurance company may also pay you for related emotional distress.

Personal or Business Income

A wildfire can result in great personal and business losses. You may need to pay for alternate living expenses while you wait for your home to be repaired or rebuilt, for example, as well as the costs of evacuation. Your homeowners insurance should pay for these expenses. You may also suffer lost wages at your job from having to take time off of work to deal with an insurance claim, visit your damaged property or receive medical care for your injuries. If you have a permanent disability, you could also claim compensation for lost future capacity to earn.

These are all compensable damages during an insurance claim or wildfire lawsuit in California, as is any damage to your business. If a wildfire impacted your business, you could sustain business losses associated with property damage and lost revenue. Even if you reach the limit on your commercial insurance policy or business interruption insurance, you may be eligible for additional coverage for business losses from a responsible party.

Physical Injuries

Physical injuries suffered by victims is another major category of compensable damages in a wildfire case in California. Wildfires can be extremely dangerous, often spreading too quickly for warnings to reach residents and to allow them to safely evacuate. Being caught in a wildfire can lead to serious and life-threatening injuries for victims, including:

  • Severe burns
  • Damage to muscles and ligaments
  • Scarring and disfigurement
  • Smoke-related injuries
  • Respiratory system damage
  • Catastrophic injuries
  • Permanent disability
  • Eye and ear injuries
  • Explosive blast injuries
  • Amputations/loss of limb
  • Infections and health complications
  • Wrongful death

You and your family may be eligible for compensation for all of the medical expenses associated with a physical injury, including surgeries, medications, medical devices, live-in care, physical therapy, rehabilitation, appointments with specialists, scans and x-rays, and disability accommodations. You could also receive compensation for the noneconomic losses related to an injury.

Pain and Suffering

If you have grounds to file a wildfire lawsuit in California, you can list all of the noneconomic or intangible losses that you and your family experienced under the damage category of pain and suffering. Psychological trauma is common after a disaster such as a wildfire due to the nature of the incident. The injuries suffered in a fire could also cause pain and suffering on both a physical and emotional level. You may have grounds to seek financial compensation for all of the following:

  • Physical pain and discomfort
  • Nerve damage and chronic pain
  • Permanent disability or disfigurement
  • Lost vision or hearing
  • Emotional distress
  • Mental anguish
  • Stress and inconvenience
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Grief related to losses
  • Diminished quality or enjoyment of life
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Homelessness
  • Loss of consortium
  • The loss of a loved one or pet

If your injuries have reduced your ability to enjoy daily activities, such as playing with your kids or engaging in favorite hobbies, you can list these losses as compensable damages in a wildfire lawsuit, as well. Proof of pain and suffering may come in the form of testimony from friends and family, an injury journal, medical records, and/or a diagnosis from a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Wrongful Death

Many wildfires in California’s history have been deadly. The deadliest fires in California have been the Camp Fire (85 deaths), Griffith Park Fire (29 deaths) and Tunnel – Oakland Hills Fire (25 deaths). If you lost a loved one in a California wildfire, you may be eligible to recover financial compensation for the following damages:

  • Funeral expenses
  • Burial costs
  • Lost earnings and inheritance
  • Loss of the loved one’s care, love and companionship
  • Loss of spousal consortium
  • Lost value of household services
  • The decedent’s pain and suffering
  • The decedent’s property losses
  • Medical costs related to the final injury
  • The family’s mental anguish

Although no amount of money can equate to an individual’s life, receiving financial compensation for wrongful death could give your family the money that it needs to pay off related bills and debts, so that you can move forward with greater peace of mind. Requiring the at-fault party to pay for its mistakes in causing a deadly wildfire can also bring your loved one justice and your family closure.

For more information about the compensation that may be available in your wildfire lawsuit, contact a wildfire lawyer in California today. Panish Shea & Boyle LLP offers free initial case evaluations.

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