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Third-Party Liability in California Wildfires

On Behalf of | Sep 20, 2023 | Insurance Recovery |

In a recent post, we talked about claims that individuals or businesses may have with their insurance company after a California wildfire. Today, we want to discuss third-party claims in these situations. What happens when an outside party may be responsible for the fire that caused damage to a person’s property or business.

What is third-party liability?

Many wildfires in California happen due to some type of “act of god.” Typically, a lightning strike or other natural event starts a fire and, by the time anyone is aware or at least before anyone has a chance to respond, the fire has started to become more widespread, ultimately leading to the damage of businesses, homes, and other real and personal property, not to mention the risk of serious injury. In third-party cases, on the other hand, someone, some business, some commercial activity causes a fire.  From there, it takes off much in the same way as more “natural” fires.  Ultimately, the damage is the same—damage to property and, hopefully not, to a person.

In these third-party cases, it’s likely that someone (business or person) is ultimately on the hook for the damages caused. However, attributing these fires to those third parties often can require extensive investigations, which need to be undertaken as soon as possible. Establishing a connection is difficult in even the best of circumstances; if there is a delay, that process can become almost impossible.

Common third-parties responsible for fires

In many cases, the third party involved will be a public utility company. Power companies may see lines break that spark a wildfire in a rural area. Gas companies can see pipelines explode. Things can happen in the ordinary course of these third parties’ operations that can lead to catastrophic fires.

There can, of course, be other actors whose activities, whether commercial or otherwise, can cause fires. A landowner may be burning brush and the fire may get out of control. Construction companies may have machines that send sparks off into dry ground that could lead to fires. Understanding the role of these groups in the cause of the fire can impact their potential responsibility for the resulting damage or injury.

If there were other contributing factors to the damage suffered, does that impact the potential insurance coverage?

This is a difficult question to answer. It will often depend on the language in the policy, the nature of these other contributing factors, and, possibly, on the type of damage caused. In some scenarios, there may be limits to the amount of compensation that may be recoverable after a wildfire. These can be extremely complicated cases and it is important to act as soon as possible to ensure that are able to seek the full amount of compensation available to you.

Should you have questions about an insurance issue related to a wildfire, or about the coverage you may have for your business, please reach out to our firm to talk to an experienced attorney. We can help you understand and evaluate your coverage options.