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Wildfire Lawsuits Allege Damage Caused by Utility Companies

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Salt Lake City, UTWith the dry season comes an increased risk of wildfire damage, something many home owners are aware of and cautious about. But recently filed wildfire lawsuits allege property damage has been caused not by home owners but by the negligence of utility companies. These wildfire property damage lawsuits allege homes were destroyed and, in some cases, lives lost because of wildfires caused either by personnel or equipment used by utility and electrical firms.

One lawsuit was filed against Rocky Mountain Power on September 11, 2012, on behalf of more than 100 property owners who say their homes and businesses were damaged by a fire caused by the utility. According to the Ventura County Star (9/11/12), authorities ruled the fire was caused by arching between power transmission lines that were too close together. More than 50 homes were destroyed and one life was lost in the fire.

Rocky Mountain Power has said it would offer cash settlements to landowners affected by the fire but did not admit fault. In addition to homeowners whose property was affected by the fire are cattle ranchers who were forced to sell herds because of the loss of ranch land for the cattle to live.

Meanwhile, an appeals court in California told 34 homeowners they could jointly sue their insurance company over a 2009 fire. According to the Los Angeles Daily News (9/17/12), the plaintiffs alleged breach of contract and unfair business practices against the California FAIR Plan Association (CFPA) for either denying claims or underpaying for damages.

A trial court threw the plaintiffs' case out of court, but the appeals court reversed that decision. The CFPA had argued that the plaintiffs should not be allowed to sue jointly because their damages did not come from the same occurrence, which the trial court agreed with. An appeals court allowed the lawsuits to go ahead jointly. The fire, started in 2009 by an arsonist, caused damage to more than 160,000 acres.

In situations in which a utility company has caused a fire that resulted in property damage, homeowners and property owners may be eligible to file a lawsuit against the company responsible. Furthermore, if an insurance company is not acting in good faith on the part of its policyholders—either by denying legitimate claims or by unreasonably delaying payment of claims, policyholders may be eligible to file a lawsuit against their insurance company.

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