Posted in News on August 15, 2017
Residents in most parts of Montana are familiar with the significant threat of wildfires in the notoriously dry climate. Parts of Montana have seen wildfires spread over thousands of acres and devastate whole neighborhoods. Many Montana citizens have had to evacuate their homes due to fast-spreading wildfires like the Lodgepole-Complex fire, and many wonder if they have any options for legal recourse following fire damage and fire-related injuries.
Establishing Fault During Wildfires
You can only sue for damages if there is someone to sue. Natural disasters like wildfires are no one’s fault and can happen for any number of reasons. The only time you would have the option of suing for damages caused by a fire is if someone set the fire intentionally. Arson is a crime, so once police arrest and charge the responsible individual, you could use the criminal case as a basis for your civil action against the responsible party.
If arson caused your fire-related injuries and damages, bringing a lawsuit against the arsonist may seem like the best option for legal recourse, but chances are the arsonist won’t have the assets to cover the damages of all of his or her victims. Your attorney will likely advise you of the best course of action if arson caused your damages. If the fire was completely natural, accidental, or not clearly the fault of anyone, your options for recovery are limited to insurance coverage. In some cases, faulty building materials or parts of your damaged property extolled as “fireproof” or “fire resistant” could open the door to a product liability claim.
Wildfire Insurance Issues
Most fire insurance coverage only extends to accidental house fires. While this may cover the damage of a kitchen fire, such a policy probably contains very specific wording concerning wildfires or may not pertain to wildfires at all. If no one directly caused the fire, an insurance claim is your only option for compensation for your damages.
No one enjoys dealing with insurance companies – they are businesses that exist to make money, and paying out on claims loses money. Insurance claims adjusters are notorious for using any legitimate excuse they can find to underestimate claims or deny them altogether. However, they must process claims honestly and in good faith. They may not lie, misrepresent evidence, intimidate, or otherwise attempt to thwart a claim. If they behave in any of these ways, they are guilty of insurance bad faith practices.
Suing for Bad Faith in Billings, MT | Heenan & Cook, PLLC
If you believe an insurer has acted in bad faith or a claims adjuster did not conduct himself or herself professionally during your interview, speak with an attorney at Heenan & Cook, PLLC as soon as possible. If your insurance policy covers wildfires but your insurer refuses to fully pay a claim, you may have a bad faith insurance case on your hands. Your attorney will help you gather the necessary evidence for building a case and issue a letter to the insurer, explaining the situation and claiming bad faith.
In many cases, this letter is enough to spur a more generous offer from the insurer, but you may still need to escalate the situation to a lawsuit if the insurer has acted unethically. After suffering damages from a wildfire, handling complex legal issues with insurance companies is probably the last thing you want to do, so connect with a reliable attorney who can handle your case while you focus on recovery.