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Can I Sue for Wildfire Damage?

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What is a Wildfire?

A wildfire is a large, destructive fire that spreads quickly over woodland or brush. It is uncontrolled and wipes out large fields and areas of land.

They are typically started out of a lightning strike, but they can also be caused by arson or careless people (such as someone who throws a lit cigarette into dry bush). On average, more than 100,000 wildfires clear 4 to 5 million acres.

How are Wildfires Formed?

Wildfires are formed when three conditions are present: fuel, oxygen, and a heat source. “Fuel” means any material that is flammable in a fire, such as trees, grass, brush or even homes. A fire picks up momentum and burns more quickly when there are multiple flammable sources of fuel.

Air supplies the oxygen a fire needs to burn. A heat source could be lightning, hot winds, or even the sun can spark a wildfire.

If My Property is Damaged in a Wildfire, Can I Sue?

The short answer is, “it depends.” An individual or company whose property is damaged in a wildfire can sue the responsible party if the fire was caused by negligence. To prevail on a claim of negligence, the plaintiff must demonstrate the following:

  • The perpetrator of the fire had a duty of care to the plaintiff;
  • The perpetrator breached that duty; and
  • As a result of the breach of duty, the plaintiff suffered damages.

By way of example, let’s say a group of people are camping. Those people owe a duty of care not to start an uncontrolled fire at the campground to other campers.

If a camper carelessly throws his cigarette into some firewood and walks away, not realizing that the cigarette has sparked and caught fire, any people who were harmed by the resulting fire may have a valid claim of negligence against him.

Are There Any Other Causes of Actions I Can File Against the Perpetrator?

If the person who caused a wildfire acted with malicious intent, you can sue under an “intentional tort” theory. An intentional tort is an action done with the intent to harm or the knowledge that your conduct is likely to harm another.

The “harm” can include physical harm to the person as well as damage to one’s property. In this regard, if an arsonist intentionally sets a wildfire which burns down your home, you can file an intentional tort claim against the perpetrator.

Who Decides Whether the Perpetrator is Guilty?

As with any civil lawsuit, the defendant is entitled to his “day in court” to prove his innocence. Both the plaintiff and the defendant will present their case in front of a jury of their peers.

After the case is heard in its entirety, the jury will deliberate and decide on a verdict of either “guilty” or “not guilty.” 

Should I Contact an Attorney About Suing for Wildfire Damage?

When wildfire damage is the result of human error, you have the right to sue. If you believe that the damage you sustained due to a wildfire was caused by a person who was negligent or purposeful, it is highly recommended that you speak with a personal injury attorney about how to proceed with a claim.

It will help your claim if the local police department or fire department knows who or what started the fire, and if a person started it they were charged and found guilty of criminal arson.

Photo of page author Erin Chan Adams

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 07-24-2018 11:14 PM PDT

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