CALIFORNIA WILDFIRE INSURANCE CLAIM DENIALS: WHY YOU MAY NEED AN INSURANCE ATTORNEY

by Eric James Ratinoff on Aug. 10, 2018

 General Practice 

Summary: California wildfire insurance claim denials are a very real concern right now for home and business owners in this state. According to Cal Fire, wildfires in California are burning larger and hotter than we have historically ever seen.

California wildfire insurance claim denials are a very real concern right now for home and business owners in this state. According to Cal Fire, wildfires in California are burning larger and hotter than we have historically ever seen. Since 2010, California has experienced 8 of the top 10 most destructive wildfires in state history. 4 of those fires occurred in the past year alone, with the 2017 North Bay Fires in Northern California, and the 2017 Thomas Fire in Southern California.

The North Bay Fires destroyed or damaged more than 14,700 homes and 728 businesses in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties. Insurance claims for that group of fires amounted to over $9 billion. The Thomas Fire destroyed 281,893 acres and 1,063 structures in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, and brought the total insurance claims for California in 2017 alone to almost $12 billion.

Now, in 2018, wildfires continue to rage. The most recent wildfire in Shasta and Trinity Counties, the Carr Fire, is now the 7th most destructive wildfire in California history (scroll further down on this page to see the complete list of the top 20 most destructive wildfires in California history). As massive amounts of insurance claims continue to roll in, will insurance companies continue to honor their policies? Or will we see a corresponding increase in California wildfire insurance claim denials?

WILDFIRE INSURANCE CLAIM DENIALS

While we would like to be optimistic that everyone has a vested interest in rebuilding our communities, the truth of the matter is insurance companies are profit driven businesses. Much like banks, insurance companies earn a large share of their profits by investing available money in stocks, bonds, venture capital and real estate. If all of a sudden the amount of money they have available to invest becomes threatened by a large influx in claims, it’s a likely conclusion that they will begin to delay paying those claims. Especially when they know the exact percentage of money they can save by that simple delay tactic.

Insurance companies also know that they will save a higher percentage of money by lowballing claims (paying less than the policy dictates), and an even higher amount still by unfairly denying claims. They know through years of experience that they can get away with these tactics through confusing policy language, by making the claims process difficult for its policyholders, or by stating that certain parts of the property would not have been worth restoring prior to the fire and so they will not cover the full cost of restoration.

Wildfire insurance claim denials - homes burnt by wildfire in CaliforniaThe most common tactic insurance companies use is writing a policy that is not clear one way or the other. The less clear they write a policy, the more room they will have to say they are not obligated to pay. They write their policies in such a way that lawyers are required to provide a “coverage opinion” as to whether or not they must pay claims.

With the amount of destruction growing at such an alarming rate, it is no question we will see a corresponding increase in California wildfire insurance claim denials.

Top 20 Most Destructive Wildfires in California History

According to Cal Fire data, the list below ranks California wildfires according to the amount of structures destroyed. Visit CalFire’s website for a separate list of the top 20 largest wildfires in California history (amount of acreage destroyed).

1. Tubbs Fire (2017 – part of North Bay Fires) – destroyed 36,807 acres and 5,636 structures and claimed 22 lives in Sonoma County

2. Tunnel Fire (1991 – Oakland Hills) – destroyed 1,600 acres and 2,900 structures and claimed 25 lives in Alameda County

3. Cedar Fire (2003) – destroyed 273,246 acres and 2,820 structures and claimed 15 lives in San Diego County

4. Valley Fire (2015) – destroyed 76,067 acres and 1,955 structures and claimed 4 lives in Lake, Napa & Sonoma Counties

5. Witch Fire (2007) – destroyed 197,990 acres and 1,650 structures and claimed 2 lives in San Diego County

6. Nuns Fire (2017 – part of North Bay Fires) – destroyed 54,382 acres and 1,355 structures and claimed 3 lives in Sonoma County

7. Carr Fire (2018) – destroyed 110,154 acres and 1,236 structures and claimed 6 lives in Shasta and Trinity Counties

8. Thomas Fire (2017) – destroyed 281,893 acres and 1,063 structures and claimed 1 life in Ventura & Santa Barbara Counties

9. Old Fire (2003) – destroyed 91,281 acres and 1,003 structures and claimed 6 lives in San Bernardino County

10. Jones Fire (1999) – destroyed 26,200 acres and 954 structures and claimed 1 life in Shasta County

11. Butte Fire (2015) – destroyed 70,868 acres and 921 structures and claimed 2 lives in Amador & Calaveras Counties

12. Atlas Fire (2017 – part of North Bay Fires) – destroyed 51,624 acres and 783 structures and claimed 6 lives in Napa & Solano Counties

13. Paint Fire (1990) – destroyed 4,900 acres and 641 structures and claimed 1 life in Santa Barbara County

14. Fountain Fire (1992) – destroyed 63,960 acres and 636 structures in Shasta County

15. Sayre Fire (2008) – destroyed 11,262 acres and 604 structures in Los Angeles County

16. City of Berkeley Fire (1923) – destroyed 130 acres and 584 structures in Alameda County

17. Harris Fire (2007) – destroyed 90,440 acres and 548 structures and claimed 8 lives in San Diego County

18. Redwood Valley Fire (2017 – part of North Bay Fires) – destroyed 36,523 acres and 546 structures and claimed 9 lives in Mendocino County

19. Bel Air Fire (1961) – destroyed 6,090 acres and 484 structures in Los Angeles County

20. Laguna Fire (1993) – destroyed 14,437 acres and 441 structures in Orange County

Rebuilding California after the Wildfires

Anyone who has experienced a wildfire in recent years is still reeling from its effects. They have had to scramble to find a home for their families, a safe place for their pets and farm animals, and finances to not only regain stability, but also to rebuild what they lost. Many people are also still battling the emotional trauma of what they endured, and bracing themselves every fire season as they witness the same tragedy strike other parts of California. These people are fighting the hardest to rebuild our state, and they certainly do not need to face an increase in wildfire insurance claim denials.

California is still a beautiful place to live. It is full of natural beauty, lush landscape and culinary artistry. But we must all do our part to keep it that way, and there is a lot of work to be done. Individually, we must be able to rebuild our homes and businesses. Collectively, we must replant trees, gardens and vegetation. All of this work takes time, energy, and, of course, money.

Nobody should have to battle a wildfire and then turn around and battle their insurance company. Unfortunately, this is what many home and business owners have been forced to do. If you are facing wildfire insurance claim denials, we are here to help.

Insurance Lawyers Helping Californians Fight Wildfire Insurance Claim Denials

Our insurance attorneys have 25 years of success making insurance companies pay. We have also helped hundreds of families rebuild after losing everything to preventable wildfires. We are fighting to ensure recovery in the aftermath of these fires, and we are doing our part to prevent California wildfire insurance claim denials.

If you have suffered a loss due to a California wildfire and have questions about your insurance policy, don’t hesitate to call us today. We would be happy to review your policy and answer your questions, with no fee or obligation to you. 

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