California has seen a lot of wildfires in recent years, such as the Dixie Fire, which burned 963,309 acres of land in 2021, and the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 85 people.
Many of the recent California wildfires have shared one thing in common: they were started by the carelessness of a company operating in California. This trend may be continuing, too: the recently ignited Mosquito Fire, McKinney Fire, Fairview Fire, and Mill Fire all appear as if they may have been started by companies operating in California.
If you or a loved one has been affected by a recent California wildfire, you may be wondering what behaviors can cause companies to be held financially liable for a wildfire in California. You may also wonder if you qualify to file a California wildfire lawsuit in order to obtain financial compensation for your wildfire-related losses.
This article will provide an in-depth look into the causes of action which California wildfire lawsuits seek to hold defendants liable under.
Inverse condemnation is the concept that private property may not be damaged or taken for public use without the property owner getting justly compensated.
An Example of Inverse Condemnation
An investigation finds a utility company’s power lines responsible for starting a wildfire, finding that the utility company failed to properly maintain their power lines and failed to make sure that dry vegetation wasn’t growing too close to the power lines.
Power lines are public improvements, and since California’s Supreme Court ruled that inverse condemnation applies to property that is harmed by public improvements, this means that the utility company, in this situation, is financially liable for any property damage caused by the wildfire its power lines sparked.
In this situation, owners of property that became damaged by this fire are eligible to file a lawsuit against the utility, seeking to recover damages based on the cause of action known as inverse condemnation.
Negligence is the failure to be reasonably careful in order to prevent harm. Acting can be negligent. Failing to act can be negligent. Doing what a reasonably careful person would not do in the same situation is negligence. Not doing what a reasonably careful person would do in the same situation is negligence.
California Civil Jury Instructions state that the following needs to be proven to establish a successful negligence claim:
- A defendant was negligent
- A plaintiff was harmed
- The defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing harm to the plaintiff
California law holds those who harm others via negligence financially liable for any damages caused by the negligence.
An Example of Negligence
An investigation finds that a wildfire was started by a utility company’s power lines. The investigation finds that the power lines failed, setting fire to dry vegetation that was extremely close to the power lines. The investigation finds that a private contractor hired by the utility told the utility years ago that power lines in the area were aging, recommending they be serviced or replaced.
The investigation finds that the utility chose not to service or replace the power lines because it was too expensive. The investigation also finds that the utility knew that vegetation was growing too close to the power lines but had failed to clear the vegetation away from the power lines prior to the fire igniting.
It is negligent in failing to properly maintain power lines. A reasonably careful utility would repair or replace aging, damaged power lines. It is negligent in failing to clear vegetation that is too close to power lines. A reasonably careful utility would make sure that vegetation does not pose a fire risk by growing too close to power lines.
In this situation, anybody who suffers any losses as a result of the wildfire qualifies to file a lawsuit against the utility, seeking damages from the utility company based on the cause of action known as negligence. These damages might include:
- Evacuation costs
- Medical bills
- The cost to repair or replace damaged or destroyed property
- Lost wages
- Business interruption
- Wrongful death damages
Negligence Per Se
Negligence per se is essentially negligence via the violation of a regulation, statute, or ordinance.
California Civil Jury Instructions state that California juries should find defendants negligent if they violated a regulation, statute, or ordinance, and this violation was a substantial factor in causing harm.
An Example of Negligence Per Se
An investigation concludes that a utility company failed to adequately maintain their equipment and that this poorly maintained equipment was responsible for starting a wildfire.
California Public Utilities Code § 451 states that utilities must maintain equipment in a way that promotes the safety of the public. In this case, the utility violated this code by not properly maintaining its equipment. Thus, because this code violation led to a wildfire that caused harm, this code violation is considered negligence per se.
In this situation, anybody who suffers damages as a result of this wildfire is eligible to file a lawsuit against the utility, seeking financial compensation under the cause of action known as negligence per se.
Public Nuisance and Private Nuisance
A public nuisance occurs when an entity interferes unreasonably with a right shared by the general public. A private nuisance occurs when an activity or thing unreasonably and substantially interferes with a plaintiff’s enjoyment and use of their land.
California Civil Code § 3479 establishes the concept of nuisance in terms of California’s civil law. Kornoff v. Kingsburg Cotton Oil Co., 45 Cal.2d 265 saw California’s Supreme Court rule that land occupants can recover damages for discomfort and annoyance under the cause of action of a nuisance.
Damages that can be recovered include distress caused by inconvenience, irritation, or physical discomfort, even in the absence of physical injury. These damages compensate for a loss of peaceful enjoyment and occupation of a property.
An Example of a Public and Private Nuisance
An investigation finds that a utility’s power lines started a wildfire because it failed to adequately maintain the power lines and vegetation around them. The investigation also finds that the wildfire:
- Exposed the general public to smoke, which can be harmful to human health
- Caused the general public to legitimately and rationally fear that the area they live in is dangerous
- Caused many members of the general public to suffer a reduction in the fair market value of their private property
- Caused the general public to suffer stress, worries, fear, anxiety, and discomfort related to interference with their enjoyment and use of their private property
- Obstructed individual private property owners’ free use of their property
- Invaded their right to use their property
- Interfered with their enjoyment of their property, causing them unreasonable harm, as well as actual damages
In this situation, any property owner whose ability to enjoy and use their property was interfered with by the wildfire is eligible to file a lawsuit against the utility, seeking damages based on the cause of action of private nuisance.
In addition, any member of the general public whose health was injured by the smoke, whose property value was diminished by the wildfire, or who suffered stress, fear, worries, discomfort, and anxiety related to their inability to use or enjoy their property is eligible to file a lawsuit against the utility, seeking damages based on the cause of action of public nuisance.
Trespassing is knowingly entering property owned by someone else without permission. California Civil Jury Instructions state that trespassing can consist of a defendant intentionally, recklessly, or negligently causing a thing (such as a wildfire) to enter someone else’s property without permission.
Kornoff v. Kingsburg Cotton Oil Co., 45 Cal.2d 265 saw California’s Supreme Court rule that those who occupy land can recover damages for annoyance and discomfort under the cause of action of trespass.
California Civil Code § 3334 allows those whose property has been damaged by trespassing to recover financial compensation for that property damage from the trespasser.
An Example of Trespassing
An investigation finds that a utility company is responsible for a wildfire since they failed to adequately maintain their power lines, which sparked the wildfire because of this. The wildfire ends up spreading onto the land of owners of private property without their permission, causing damage to the property.
In this case, the utility company was negligent by failing to maintain its power lines. This negligence caused a wildfire to enter others’ private property without their permission.
In this situation, anybody whose property was damaged by the wildfire is eligible to file a lawsuit against the utility, seeking compensation for the property damage under the cause of action of trespass.
Violation of Public Utilities Code § 2106
California Public Utilities Code § 2106 states that utilities that do things that are prohibited or unlawful or fail to do things that are required by law are financially liable for any damages they cause by their unlawful action or unlawful failure to act.
An Example of a Violation of Public Utilities Code § 2106
An investigation concludes that a utility company’s 12,000-volt power lines started a wildfire by failing and igniting vegetation that was growing within four feet of the power lines.
California Public Resources Code § 4293 states that operators of power lines in California must clear all vegetation within four feet of power lines operating at between 2,400 and 72,000 volts.
In this case, the utility company failed to comply with California Public Resources Code § 4293, and this failure is considered a violation of Public Utilities Code § 2106.
In this situation, anyone who suffers damages due to the wildfire is eligible to file a lawsuit against the utility seeking financial compensation under the cause of action known as Violation of Public Utilities Code § 2106.
Violation of Health and Safety Code § 13007
California Health and Safety Code § 13007 states that those who negligently allow wildfires to start and spread to others’ property are financially liable to the property owners for any damage caused by the wildfire.
An Example of a Violation of Health and Safety Code § 13007
An investigation finds that a wildfire that destroyed many homes was started by power lines that were poorly maintained by a utility company. A reasonably careful utility company would not poorly maintain its power lines. Thus, this wildfire was the result of negligence.
This negligence allowed the wildfire to spread onto others’ private property, destroying many homes in the process. This negligence thus constitutes a violation of Health and Safety Code § 13007.
In this situation, any property owner who suffers property damage due to the wildfire is eligible to file a lawsuit against the utility seeking financial compensation under the cause of action known as Violation of Health and Safety Code § 13007.
California Wildfire Lawsuit Lawyers
The experienced California wildfire lawyers at Nadrich & Cohen have handled thousands of wildfire claims, including claims against utility companies such as PG&E and Southern California Edison.
We possess extensive experience in successfully obtaining financial compensation for our clients based on causes of action such as inverse condemnation, negligence, nuisance, and trespass. Because we know all the ins and outs of California wildfire law, we know how to maximize your financial recovery if you have suffered losses due to a California wildfire.
Our wildfire attorneys represent wildfire victims on a contingency fee basis, meaning we only charge a portion of any recovery obtained, and we don’t charge a fee unless and until a financial recovery is obtained.
Contact us today for a free consultation if you or a loved one suffered evacuation damages, property damage, injury, death, or other losses due to a California wildfire. You may be eligible for financial compensation in a California wildfire lawsuit.