Wildfires triggered by utility and construction equipment failures, downed electrical lines, sparking transformers, tree strikes in high winds, and improper use of machinery on ‘red flag’ fire warning days are all events that can give rise to consumer lawsuits to recover for the property damaged or destroyed, loss of business income, and personal claims for physical injury and emotional distress. We specialize in these types of cases. Unfortunately, many people assume they are adequately insured, but when a catastrophe occurs, they discover they are not.
Often insurance policies do not provide sufficient coverage to restore the losses suffered by homeowners, renters, and business owners. That's where we can help. The fire litigation attorneys at Engstrom, Lipscomb & Lack can assist with insurance claims and, if necessary, force an insurer to meet all of its obligations to the policyholder.
Engstrom, Lipscomb & Lack is California’s Premier Fire Litigation Firm
Our practice has approximately 20 lawyers devoted to representing consumers and consumer organizations (such as Homeowner Associations) against utilities, insurance companies, and other large tortfeasors. We have been in business for more than 40 years and have an excellent reputation that is well known to our opponents. Throughout that time, we have helped clients all over California recover more than three billion dollars from utilities and other entities responsible for fire losses.
ELL takes client service seriously. We recognize that our clients are going through one of the worst experiences of their lives, so our primary focus is seeing to our clients’ needs and concerns, followed by documenting their damages with empathy and speed, before moving on to hold those who caused the damage responsible.
We do not charge any fees upfront. We work on a contingency fee basis, and we generally advance all costs necessary to prosecute the case. If there is no recovery, our clients owe us nothing for our time, fees, or costs advanced. We are often hired to represent not just individual homeowners but also entire communities affected by a fire. This allows us to take advantage of economies of scale and save money by having tasks involving both larger groups, like a Homeowner’s Association, and individual families done at the same time.
The Sayre Fire
In 2014, the team recovered more than 200 individuals against Southern California Edison for the Sayre Fire. The media identified Sayre as the largest loss of homes in Los Angeles’ history. Engstrom, Lipscomb & Lack was the only firm to recover for individuals in the Sayre Fire.
Engstrom, Lipscomb & Lack was the liaison counsel for the Round Fire, which took place in 2015 near Bishop, CA. We are also on the Plaintiff’s steering committee for the Butte Fire litigation. In 2015, the Butte Fire damaged over 800 structures and was ranked the 7th most destructive fire in California history.
What Is a Wildfire?
According to National Geographic, a wildfire is defined as “an uncontrolled fire that burns in wildland vegetation, often in rural areas.”
Wildfires have been burning for hundreds of years in forests, grasslands, savannas, and other habitats. They aren't restricted to any one continent or environment. Wildfires are most common in the United States in California and can occur anywhere in the state. While often occurring in mountain forests, coastal fires are becoming more prevalent.
Drought, high winds, and dry conditions increase the risk of wildfires. Transportation telecommunications, power and gas services, and drinking water supplies are often disrupted by wildfires. These fires also decrease air quality, in addition to the loss of property, crops, resources, animals, and people.
What Causes a Wildfire in California?
In California, rising temperatures, drought conditions, and dry vegetation all contribute to wildfires, but the deteriorating effects of climate change are intensifying and lengthening the fire season. California had its worst wildfire season on record in 2020, with the Bay Area fire being one of the most destructive wildfires in American history. By the conclusion of the year, the state had recorded about 10,000 fires that had consumed nearly 4 million acres of land, accounting for nearly 4% of the state's total land area.
California was home to at least a third of the worst wildfires in US history. But what makes California so prone to flames in the first place, and what is exacerbating the problem? Wildfires can happen naturally as well as as a result of human action. A wildfire, like any other fire, requires the following ingredients to start: (1) fuel, (2) air, and (3) a heat source.
Researchers have found that periodic variations in the climate and rainfall over California are influenced by the El Nino–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), making the state vulnerable to wildfires.
However, human activity and negligence are at blame for 85-90 percent of wildfires, as they provide the heat source needed to ignite. Once ignited, the winds are ultimately the source of the spread, which in California’s dry areas can be quite extreme. The El Dorado Fire in 2020, which started as a forest fire and finally burned down 13,715 acres of property, was caused by a failed smoke-generating pyrotechnical item at a gender reveal celebration.
Recovering Damages After a Wildfire
One of the most common losses linked to California wildfires is the destruction of property. Wildfires damaged 4.3 million acres and impacted 10,500 structures last year, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III). Damage from smoke, soot, flames, floods, and other natural disasters can all be claimed as wildfire property damage in an insurance claim or lawsuit.
In some cases, it may be feasible to claim personal and business expenses related to the fire, such as wages lost due to time away from work or income lost due to a company disruption. In a wildfire case, individuals may be eligible for financial compensation for substitute living expenses such as hotel or travel fees while the house is being repaired. Finally, any expenditures involved with wildfire evacuations may be recoverable.
A wildfire's smoke can be deadly in and of itself. Hundreds of various gases and compounds released from burned items, such as house paint and metals, can be found in smoke. Breathing in the smoke from a wildfire can cause a variety of physical problems giving rise to recoverable personal injury damages.
A wildfire can result in a variety of serious physical and mental injuries. Many of these injuries have a long-term impact on victims, such as permanent scars and deformities, mental distress, and PTSD. In certain situations, wildfire injuries are fatal and result in wrongful death claims.
The Fire Litigation Attorneys of Engstrom, Lipscomb & Lack
We have spent decades litigating against utilities that have caused wildfire damage. On a contingency basis, we handle fire litigation matters and provide free consultations. Contact our offices immediately to speak with one of our experienced personal injury and complex litigation trial lawyers about your case.
Contact us for a no-cost consultation about your specific legal situation to learn more about our attorneys' significant trial experience.