Wildfires can be terrifying and catastrophic. Often caused by an electrical utility’s equipment malfunctioning in inclement weather, the flames can reach 50 feet in the air, and travel at speeds of 80 miles per hour. Wildfires can consume thousands of acres of public and private land – homes, businesses, personal property, and landscaping. They exact a huge personal toll on survivors, both financially and emotionally.
Our experienced wildfire lawyers hold utilities responsible under two legal theories: Inverse Condemnation, and Tort Law.
Inverse condemnation originates under Article I, section 19 of the California Constitution: “private property may be taken or damaged for a public use and only when just compensation…has first been paid to…the owner.”
Under inverse condemnation, if a governmental entity (including a privately-held public utility) “takes” or “damages” property of a citizen, it’s liable for the fair-market value of the damaged property.
The inverse claim is similar to eminent domain, except property is taken before it’s condemned – hence the term inverse condemnation. If evidence demonstrates a utility’s powerlines cause a fire, it will be per se liable for the property damage caused (even if the utility wasn’t negligent in its operations).
The theory of inverse condemnation has been used to great effect holding public utilities accountable in previous wildfires. As recently as June 2017, PG&E was found liable under the theory for the 2015 Butte Fire (caused by a tree contacting PG&E’s lines).
Tort liability compensates citizens for harms caused them by others. In the event a utility is negligent or caused a trespass, in allowing a wildfire to spread, the utility may be liable for damages greater than the fair-market value of lost property. These damages are broad in scope, and include: personal injuries, emotional distress, pain and suffering, lost income and business profits, damages to trees and landscaping, replacement costs for real and personal property – and cherished possessions to which a value is hard to assign.
Our attorneys are extremely experienced in all aspects of wildfire litigation, whether its theories of liability or damages. We have worked many of the largest wildfire cases:
- 2007 San Diego Wildfire Cases (San Diego, CA)
- 2011 Caughlin Ranch (Reno, NV)
- 2013 Pfieffer Fire (Big Sur, CA)
- 2015 Butte Fire (Calaveras County, CA)
- 2016 Erskine Fire (Lake Isabella, CA)
- 2017 North Bay Fires (Napa, Sonoma County, CA)
- 2017 Thomas Fire (Ventura County, CA)
What sets us apart from other firms: we meet with our clients and learn their stories. We have helped hundreds of clients rebuild and recover from wildfires. We know how hard it is, which is why we are there for our clients from day one.