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Insurance claims tied to California wildfires present challenges to homeowners

If you were to ask someone to name the biggest meteorological threat California faces, years ago they would likely have replied, "Earthquakes". However, in recent years, the two threats that top the list are the related issues of drought and wildfire.

Many people incorrectly assume that they have little to no legal rights when it comes to property damage, injuries or loss of life due to wildfires. Seeking legal representation can help insure that victims of wildfire losses receive compensation from insurance companies. 

Wildfires Roaring Through California

If you own property in California, wildfire damage and losses are always a concern, but the recent drought has exacerbated the threat. Eleven recent massive California fires, such as the Lake Nacimiento Fire in Central California, have been aided by the drought-stricken landscape.

For example, the recent Lower Lake Fire in Northern California was fueled by soaring temperatures, bone-dry vegetation and winds, hindering firefighter efforts. The blaze, which destroyed over 100 homes, occurred in an area that still hadn't recovered from a major fire just a year prior.

Wildfire Compensation Claims

Not all wildfires are acts of nature, such as a lightning strike, that precludes people from filing legal claims if they suffer from property damage, injury or death. In fact, there are two types of wildfire lawsuits that can address other wildfire losses: suits against insurance companies who deny legal claims and suits against those causing the blaze.

Liability Claims -- Wildfires that are traceable to a human cause include a campfire in restricted zones, a tossed cigarette, faulty equipment that emits sparks into a field, or the improper storage of flammable material. Another example of liability would be if a rental home invaded by a wildfire didn't have properly working smoke alarms, which resulted in death or injury. In this scenario, the owner or landlord may bear some legal responsibility.

Insurance Claim Denial -- While insurance companies are happy to accept premium payments, they often fight against genuine claims. Fires can cause extensive damage. Not only is there direct damage to and destruction of structures from the burning and charring, smoke damage can permeate the walls, HVAC system, carpeting and insulation. Additionally, there may be water damage from fire relief efforts, and if the structure is not properly dried, toxic mold can begin growing within 48 hours. Smoke and mold damage may be subject to exclusion limits, and insurance companies may try to dismiss a claim by pursuing suspicion of arson. Even if the coverage is not contested, the value of personal property, costs to repair the structure, and even living expenses can cause insurance bad faith disputes.

Your fire insurance policy contains specific requirements for claims, including providing proof of loss, and, if requested by your insurance company, the demand to submit to an examination under oath. Because navigating these claim requirements involve difficult and complicated conditions, when you suffer losses due to a wildfire it is crucial that you seek professional legal counsel immediately. You should contact an experienced attorney to assist you with your insurance bad-faith claims. 

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