Aitken Aitken Cohn is Investigating the Orange County Wildfires
May 17, 2022
The Orange County injury attorneys at Aitken Aitken Cohn are closely monitoring claims connected to the Coastal Fire that started May 11, 2022, in a brush near Aliso Woods Canyon, which then spread to the gated community in Laguna Niguel. The Orange County Register reported the fire prompted the evacuation of some nearby homes and a luxury resort and golf course. Recent reports estimate that the fire destroyed more than 20 homes and damaged eleven other properties.
Unlike previous fires typically driven by the Santa Ana winds, the Coastal Fire was driven by the state’s prolonged drought, which continues to worry fire officials. According to Drought.gov, drought conditions contribute to wildfires, as dry, hot, and windy weather combined with dried-out vegetation can increase the probability of large-scale wildfires.
What We Know
While the investigation of the Coastal Fire is currently underway, Southern California Edison (SCE) issued a brief incident report “out of an abundance of caution,” saying, “Our information reflects circuit activity occurring close in time to the reported time of the fire. Our investigation is ongoing.” SCE’s electrical equipment has previously been blamed for igniting some of the state’s most destructive wildfires.
In December 2021, SoCal Edison was fined more than $550 million for their role in sparking the Thomas, Woolsey, Rye, Meyers, and Liberty fires. The Thomas fire erupted in December 2017, burning nearly 282,000 acres and destroying more than 1,000 structures across Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. It was previously considered the state’s largest wildfire in history.
The Woolsey Fire was a destructive wildfire that first ignited in November 2018 and spread throughout Los Angeles and Ventura County. According to Cal Fire, nearly 97,000 acres were burned by the Woolsey fire, damaging more than 1,500 structures. In December 2018, 170 homeowners and businesses whose properties were damaged or destroyed by the fire filed mass tort lawsuits against SCE over their part in starting the fire. In October 2019, Southern California Edison admitted that its equipment was responsible for igniting the wildfire and issued a settlement for agencies affected.
What Homeowners Should Know
The California Department of Insurance offers some tips to homeowners who have suffered fire damage and are looking to file a claim:
- Before the immediate threat of fire danger, homeowners should understand their insurance policies and ensure adequate coverage for extensive property damage. Make sure you obtain a complete report of your policy for your records.
- If your home has already sustained fire damage, it’s essential to file a home insurance claim as quickly as possible. The sooner you file a claim, the quicker the recovery process will begin.
- If your home is uninhabitable due to fire damage, take note of your Additional Living Expenses limits, which will help pay for hotels, restaurants, and other expenses. Make sure to track all your expenses.
- Document all your conversations with your insurer/adjuster about your claim and policy limitations in a dedicated “claim diary.” If your adjuster says something is excluded, limited, or subject to certain conditions, ask the adjuster to point out the specific provision in your policy being cited.
- If your home experiences smoke and ash damage, you’ll want to ensure your property and possessions get correctly inspected, tested, and documented. Take pictures of all visible damage and if you’re suffering from any health problems, go to your doctor.
- If your insurance company cancels your coverage, you may qualify for the California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements Plan (FAIR), which offers basic fire coverage to homeowners who lost their property insurance because of wildfires.
Aitken Aitken Cohn’s Litigation Experience
Aitken Aitken Cohn has an extensive background handling major cases involving Southern California Edison. The Aitken trial team has previously secured a confidential settlement against the utility company in a wrongful death case involving the electrocution deaths of three family members caused by down SCE power lines. In the settlement, SCE admitted to violating the Public Utilities Code and claimed their electrical poles and power lines in and around the area had been poorly constructed and inadequately maintained per their standards. Our firm also represented the family of a man who was electrocuted in Cabazon after approaching a vehicle that had crashed into an SCE utility pole.
Our firm also has a longstanding background in handling Insurance Bad Faith cases. Insurance bad faith, also known as “insurance fraud,” is used to describe the mistreatment of consumers and businesses by insurance carriers. Unfortunately, it is a common occurrence in Orange County. Wylie Aitken previously secured a $17 million verdict on behalf of two homeowners who claimed their insurance company failed to properly investigate the loss after filing a claim following a house fire that damaged 80% of their home and personal property.