Homeowners in wildfire country are often hit with a double tragedy. First, their home is damaged or destroyed, and then in the aftermath, the insurance company finds some reason to deny their property insurance claim.
Just as predictable as wildfire season, we tend to see a “fire loss denial season” months later when those property owners invoke their policies. Insurers who deny fire claims in bad faith can be held accountable for monetary damages.
A new round of deadly and damaging wildfires
After the devastating fires in Northern California in 2017, including the North Bay fires, a new spate of fires raged across the state this fall. The Camp Fire near Chico in Butte County is officially the most deadly in California history and the most destructive in terms of property damage. Meanwhile in Southern California, hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated in Ventura County, with many lives lost and several neighborhoods entirely consumed. Smaller blazes have cropped up in Solana County (not far from last year’s Atlas fire), as well as in Mendecino County and the mountain regions.
Cal Fire investigators recently concluded that several 2017 wildfires resulted from practices of Pacific Gas & Electric – sagging powerlines that sparked fires or re-energizing downed power lines. This is to say those particular fires cannot be blamed on arsonists, negligent property owners or any of the insurance industry’s usual scapegoats.
Fire loss claims are routinely underpaid, delayed or denied
Businesses and homeowners in high-risk areas purchase fire loss insurance in the event that a raging wildfire engulfs their property. But when tragedy does strike, they often get the run-around from the insurance company – if not a flat denial. Many insurers resist fire loss claims, especially in a heavy year with hundreds or thousands of claimants.
If the insurer unreasonably denies or intentionally undervalues the claim, it may constitute insurance bad faith. Policyholders can sue not only for the value of the policy but for additional damages if the insurance company’s claim denials are determined to be arbitrary, capricious or systematic.
In the event that you need to file a fire loss claim – or if your fire insurance claim has already been denied – a law firm with experience in this arena may be able to help you recover damages.