Our law firm, Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman of Los Angeles, has assembled a highly experienced team of lawyers and law firms to protect the rights of people impacted by the Woolsey Fire.
Heading up the team are Diane Marger Moore and Ronald L. M. Goldman, both Board Certified civil trial lawyers, certified by the prestigious National Board of Trial Advocacy as Civil Trial Advocates and Civil Pretrial Practice Advocates. Diane Marger Moore, with 40+ years of experience, is one of the most experienced fire trial lawyers in the country. She has tried dozens of fire cases. Ronald Goldman, has over 50 years of experience representing victims who have suffered catastrophic losses as a trial and appellate lawyer and is a former Pepperdine Law School adjunct Professor of Law, and Michael L. Baum, a Malibu resident and our firm’s managing partner, has litigated thousands of personal injury and wrongful death cases, including the Dupont Plaza Hotel fire in Puerto Rico.
We have also teamed up with renowned environmental attorney, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who worked with us on the Monsanto Roundup trial we won over the summer, and Malibu-resident and respected trial lawyer, Brian R. Strange. We have also hired expert certified fire investigators Michael Vergon and James Finneran each of whom have many years of experience investigating and teaching others to investigate the origin and causes of fires, particularly those caused by electrical sources, to further investigate Southern California Edison’s and other entities part in causing the Woolsey Fire.
We are helping people in several ways:
- We are helping people for free (pro bono) with the preparation and filing of insurance and FEMA claims. Our team can help ensure that your policy claims are properly and thoroughly prepared, so as to give your insurance company or FEMA a clear path to honestly and in good faith process your claim.
- If an insurance payment, satisfactory to you, is achieved without the need for litigation, then there will be no attorneys’ fees charged against that payment. However, in the event your property insurance claims become disputed and require mediation, arbitration or litigation, we will represent you for a contingent fee. We are prepared to litigate against insurance companies that dishonestly deny property claims or refuse to fulfill their legal obligations.
- We are filing lawsuits as part of a mass action against the entities that caused, or contributed to the cause, of the fire.
California Wildfire FAQs
Why Do I Need an Attorney?
Victims of wildfires have options to pursue compensation for their losses.
Those with a homeowner’s insurance policy that covers wildfires can file an insurance claim to repair, rebuild or replace their home and property. If their insurance company does not honor the policyholder’s coverage or acts in bad faith, the policyholder can sue the insurance company to force full payment of the stated policy limits.
Even if your policy covers wildfires, your policy may not cover the entire scope of damages sustained because of the fire, including evacuation costs, medical costs, permanent injury, loss of animals or pets, temporary housing, and lost income, among many others. Your lawsuit is the way that your right to recover for the entirety of your losses can be pursued.
If your insurance company makes an unfounded claim that you are not covered, we will fight to overturn that decision and to force payment as required by your policy. If the refusal to honor your rights under your policy is made by your insurance company in bad faith, we can sue it to enforce your insurance rights and for all other damages you incur as a result of such refusal, including the possibility of recovering damages the allows to punish bad faith conduct; such recoveries could be substantial. Very often bad faith claims are a significant part of any recovery.
Apart from insurance or FEMA claims, filing a California wildfire lawsuit against the party (or parties) responsible for causing the fire is another way to obtain compensation for your losses. If investigators find that a utility company, such as Southern California Edison (SCE) or any other entity caused or contributed to the cause, of the fire, they may be held liable in court. Very often, the only way a victim of the fire can recover for all the losses and harms suffered is by enforcing their rights through a lawsuit.
Keep in mind, insurance companies and utility companies have access to considerable resources, which they may deploy to argue against having to pay individuals who suffered losses in a fire, or at the very least limit the company’s liability.
An attorney is your advocate against any parties responsible for causing the fire, and, if necessary, against the insurance company. Our wildfire litigation team has extensive experience litigating fire cases. We know how to conduct a thorough investigation to prove liability and set the correct value for your losses.
“No one knows what it is like to be a victim until they become a victim. Rights in the abstract are only valuable if they are honored, and rights that are not honored only become valuable if they are pursued. It is the job of the lawyer to enforce rights that are not otherwise honored, whether that is the full value of your property loss, the magnitude of the loss of a loved one, or the pain of a burn victim; if you want the full measure of justice to which you are entitled, it is rarely achievable without the skill of an experienced and seasoned trial attorney.” — Ronald L.M. Goldman, Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman Senior Trial Attorney
Why Should I Get Involved in a Wildfire Lawsuit?
If a homeowner’s insurance policy claim does not pay the true value of your losses, filing a wildfire lawsuit provides the opportunity to recover the balance of those losses. Let’s say, for example, a policyholder’s limit is $1 million but their actual losses, including evacuation costs, temporary housing, medical costs, uninsured property damage, business loss, animal loss or other out-of-pocket loss is valued at $2 million, the litigation can recover the $1 million balance you deserve.
Another common problem is a policyholder’s property value exceeding their policy limit. Litigation against those who are responsible for the fire can help recover damages to make up the difference between your insurance limit and the true value of your property.
Likewise, if a wildfire victim develops any health issues from evacuating, such as smoke inhalation, the litigation can recover damages per each individual claim.
We also care about the animals lost in these fires, which homeowner’s insurance do not typically cover. California law used to stipulate that animal owners could only recover the market or replacement value of the animal lost in a wildfire in a civil lawsuit. Now, however, state law allows you to recover for the emotional distress one suffers due to the loss of your pet.
Finally, a wildfire lawsuit sends a clear message that California residents will not tolerate the corporate, and perhaps government, negligence that caused these disasters. The utility companies under investigation for possibly causing the latest California wildfires were implicated in previous fires in which thousands of people lost their homes, and where some, tragically, lost their lives. Pursuing legal action against any company responsible for causing these fires will hopefully deter similar action (or inaction) in the future.
What Will a Wildfire Lawsuit Involve?
Put simply, your cooperation. As part of our team, we will ask questions and will need a list of property losses and any other relevant documents to help get your claim(s) filed quickly and accurately. We will thoroughly explore with you the full extent of the losses you suffered, and continue to suffer, so as to be able to fully advise you of your rights. This arms you with the information you need to decide if you want to pursue your claims to the fullest extent of the law. If you do, we then swing into action on your behalf.
We will help you answer any questions from your insurance company or parties named in the litigation as they arise. In addition to written questions, some plaintiffs may be asked to sit for depositions. These are opportunities for the defense to find out more about the claims being made in your case. Again, we will help make this process as streamlined, comfortable, and simple as possible.
Is This a Class Action Lawsuit?
No. We are filing a mass action against the parties responsible for causing the wildfire. A mass action generally allows for greater compensation for each of the wildfire victims who elect to pursue their rights.
Mass actions share similarities with class actions:
- Both involve many claimants (hundreds or even thousands) who were harmed.
- Both are filed against common defendants that allegedly caused harm.
- All claims are consolidated into one action rather than individual lawsuits.
- Procedurally, this optimizes a large number of similar court cases against the same defendant(s).
The critical difference between the two is how the plaintiffs are treated. In a class action, the class representative stands for the large group of plaintiffs known as “the class.” All class members suffered similar harm as a result of the defendant’s actions or inactions.
The class representative sues the defendant(s) on behalf of the entire class, which means all class members are treated as one individual plaintiff; the fate of the class representative determines the fate of the class.
In a mass action, each plaintiff is treated individually, even though their claim is part of a large group. As such, each individual can establish how, and to what extent, they were harmed by the defendant(s) conduct based on the facts of their unique case. In this way, each plaintiff can seek and recover fully for his or her losses regardless of the amount of loss of any other plaintiff.
How Much Will It Cost to Hire a Wildfire Attorney?
Victims do not pay any legal fees or costs of litigation out of pocket. Our wildfire litigation team works for you on a contingent fee basis, which means we receive a percentage of the money we recover for you in a civil lawsuit against the entities responsible for causing the fire.
Our firm’s contingent fee for wildfires is 25%. The fee goes up to 40% if the case doesn’t settle 91 days before the first trial date due to the amount of work that goes into the final trial preparation for a case of this magnitude. This is a standard fee for this type of action.
We understand that there may be other firms out there willing to take a smaller fee to litigate these cases. Before you make a choice based solely on a lower contingency fee amount, keep the following in mind:
- The potential award obtained at the conclusion of the case is key. Another firm may still get a client insurance money, or other recovery, but a trial team like ours that will work diligently in obtaining a recovery from any and all entities responsible for the losses may obtain significantly more.
- We advance all of the costs to litigate your case, including the investigation into the cause(s) of the fire and proving the full extent of your damages.
- We have a top tier team of attorneys and experts working on this case, all of whom are excellent. We cut no corners in the investigation, preparation and, if necessary, trial of a client’s case. Many years of experience tells us that is necessary to maximize a client’s recovery and to achieve for them a full measure of justice.
- Our team consists of Board Certified Civil Trial Attorneys with extensive trial experience, including trial of many fire cases, and they are supported by paralegals and staff necessary for the case.
- We work with some of the most experienced fire investigation experts in the country, experts with years of experience with the ATF, with special fire-related electrical engineering expertise, property appraisers, and others who might be necessary for a particular case.
- We are only reimbursed from a successful settlement or verdict in a civil case. If for some reason this case does not resolve with a plaintiffs’ verdict or settlement, we are paid nothing.
- We assist with insurance claims for losses and FEMA applications free of charge. If your policy claim results in a satisfactory insurance payment, there will be no attorneys’ fees charged. If you wish to dispute your property insurance claim to obtain maximum compensation and require mediation, arbitration or litigation, we will represent you on a contingent fee basis at a reasonable rate.
Will My Involvement in a Wildfire Lawsuit Affect My Homeowner’s Insurance Claim?
No. A wildfire lawsuit does not interfere with or subtract from your rights under your homeowner’s insurance policy.
Between your homeowner’s insurance claim and the litigation, your homeowner’s insurance policy claim is the first priority. As our client, if you are satisfied with your insurance claim and recover 100% of what your insurer owes you without litigation, there are no attorneys’ fees. If you are unsatisfied, we will represent you in a first party bad faith lawsuit against your insurance company and pursue maximum compensation on your behalf.
Separate from your insurance claim, you are also entitled to compensation from the entities that caused the fire for damages not covered by insurance. A settlement or verdict from a lawsuit against a utility company or other commercial entity would be substantially more than a bad faith lawsuit outcome, but both lawsuits are very important and necessary for obtaining the compensation you deserve for the damages you incurred from the fire, and to help restore your life.
Will My Homeowner’s Insurance Claim Affect My Involvement in a Wildfire Lawsuit?
The insurance claim affects the lawsuit only in that you cannot recover for the same thing twice. If you receive compensation from the insurance company for 100% of your property damage, then you cannot also get compensation from a civil lawsuit against say, SoCal Edison, for example, for that same property damage. But you can get compensated in a civil lawsuit for injuries and damages beyond what the insurance pays. For example, for the true full value of your home or vehicle. Or the loss of a pet, life-long lung issues from breathing in melted plastic, smoke and ash, PTSD, other injuries, or even death.
A settlement from a civil lawsuit could also cover evacuation costs (beyond what your insurance might pay), temporary housing costs, loss of sentimental items, family photos, videos, heirlooms, jewelry, paintings, etc.
With the rains coming, there might also be mudslides and flooding that could cause further damage to your property. Your insurance may not cover that, but a civil lawsuit will certainly pursue recovery for all damages caused by the movement of the earth, mud and flood.
If my landlord and I both apply for FEMA, do we list our personal property separately?
Each individual should list their personal property separately. It is not proper for the landlord to list property owned by the tenant.
How Long Will It Take Before I Receive Compensation for My Losses?
From Homeowner’s Insurance:
Ordinarily, insurance companies acting in good faith will make advances to policyholders affected by wildfires. If you submit claims for losses quickly, your insurance company should follow suit and make funds available to you. If they do not, they may need to be nudged. We can help you with that.
Full payment could take longer. The insurance company may need to bring in appraisers, investigators or others to verify your claims for losses, which could take weeks or months.
While every case is unique, litigation is rarely finalized in less than 18 months. A settlement could happen sooner, but a mass action on this scale will likely take at least 18 months and possibly longer.
What if My Insurance Does Not Cover a Wildfire?
If you are uninsured or underinsured (your policy lacks fire coverage) and your home or property was destroyed or damaged, you still have the right to pursue compensation for your losses in a lawsuit against any entities responsible for causing the wildfire. For the uninsured, a wildfire lawsuit is likely your best option for recovering any losses incurred as a result of the fire (though not the only option, as some victims may receive relief from FEMA, for example).
Our firm will work to obtain maximum compensation for our clients whether they have homeowner’s insurance or not.
What Are Bad Faith Insurance Practices?
The law requires insurance companies to act ‘in good faith’ when processing a policy holder’s claim. As such, the insurer cannot look for ways to renege on its obligation to investigate a claim and pay the policyholder – doing so would be acting ‘in bad faith.’
Your homeowner’s insurance company must process your claim honestly and fairly, even if the company stands to lose money. Nevertheless, insurance adjusters may look for any reason to lower your claim amount or outright deny your claim by manipulating investigation findings or misrepresenting aspects of your policy. Some companies may refuse to investigate your claim, or flat out refuse to pay your claim without providing any explanation.
If you believe your homeowner’s insurance company is acting in bad faith, we can help. An experienced wildfire attorney advocating for you can make all the difference in resolving your insurance claim quickly and fairly.
Why is BHAG the Right Law Firm to Handle My Case?
Unparalleled experience in fire litigation and a commitment to clients that goes beyond the courtroom.
Our California wildfire team will determine the parties responsible for causing these fires and pursue maximum compensation under the law for our clients. We will also assist our clients in filing homeowner’s insurance claims for losses and claims with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at no cost. Our firm is dedicated to helping you rebuild and restore your life as quickly as possible.