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Wildfires and Natural Disasters

Natural disasters such as fires, floods and mudslides have become a regular part of life in some areas of California, which is bad news for homeowners. These disasters show no mercy and have impacted large residential areas in and around San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Napa Valley and beyond.

Wildfires

California has experienced devastating wildfires across Northern and Southern California. It could take years for Butte County to rebuild in the town of Paradise where nearly 14-thousand residents lost their homes following the November 2018 Camp Fire. Those who want to rebuild face a daunting task of filling out paperwork to collect insurance money, getting their land cleared and obtaining permits to rebuild.

Homeowners who sue utilities after wildfire destroys their home or property are typically doing so because they lack enough insurance coverage. Most homeowners may not realize that they are underinsured because they never bought extended replacement coverage. About 60 percent of American homes are underinsured by 20 percent according to CoreLogic, a company based in Irvine, Ca., that provides data to most major home insurers. Most people purchase an insurance policy and 20 years later, they have the same policy with the same limit. Updating coverage is the policyholder’s obligation and it is not the insurance company’s responsibility to warn you if you are underinsured.

Kabateck LLP represented more than 2,500 homeowners who suffered damage to their homes as a result of the 2009 Station fires. Farmers Insurance systematically and in bad faith either refused to pay valid claims or severely underpaid valid claims as a result of damages from these fires. KBK successfully litigated hundreds of cases, stemming from fires in 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Mudslides

The shocking images of destruction left in the aftermath of the deadly Montecito, CA mudslides offer a stark reminder of the damage caused by mother nature. Mudslides are dangerous because they destroy everything in their path and sometimes leave beyond several feet of sludge to dig out of, meaning having a homeowner’s policy with adequate coverage is vital. Mudslides cause almost $2 billion in damage and kill 25-50 Americans every year.

A mudslide is a mass of mud and other earthy material that falls down a hillside or slope. Most homeowner’s insurance policies exclude flood, mudslide, landslide and earthquake insurance and so supplemental insurance must be expressly purchased. Mudslide insurance can cost in the range of $1,000 per year depending upon the value of the home where the mudslides occur. Areas recently impacted, such as Montecito, may see a sharp increase in this type of insurance. It is also important to note that landslides, mudslides and mudflows are all considered different perils and each requires a different type of coverage.

Earthquakes

Earthquakes are all too common for California residents and when it occurs in densely populated areas the impact may cause a severe burden for both residential and commercial property owners as well as the entire regional economy. In light of the fact that building codes in California have steadily made structures more earthquake resistant and the number of homeowners with earthquake coverage is so low, it is time to take a renewed look at the regulatory scheme and identify methods to substantially increase coverage rates in California.

Following the 1994 Northridge earthquake, virtually all insurance companies in California stopped offering full coverage or guaranteed replacement cost coverage policies. Instead of offering replacement cost coverage after a loss, such as an earthquake or a fire, the carriers transitioned to limits based policies. Now, during the underwriting phase of buying a homeowner policy, carriers endeavor to set the value of the asset being insured and identify that value as the maximum coverage limit the insurance company will pay in the case of a total loss. Under this paradigm, if a homeowner suffers a total loss of their home they might not be put back in a position where they can rebuild their home, i.e. they are much more likely to be underinsured.

Hurricanes

Heavy waters may be defined as flood insurance, so knowing the exact specification of the disaster you have suffered will make a big difference. The National Flood Insurance Program from FIMA offers flood and mudflow coverage up to $250,000 for homeowners and $500,000 for businesses. Some homeowner’s policies may not provide adequate flood insurance and so again, supplement insurance is important.

In August and September 2004, Hurricanes Charlie and Francis hit Volusia County, Florida, leaving a trail of destroyed homes and other properties. When these hurricanes occurred, many homeowners believed their insurance coverage would provide help to rebuild and start over. Unfortunately, many insurance companies did not honor their agreements. Kabateck LLP filed multiple bad faith actions against the insurance companies, and recovered millions of dollars that these insurance companies initially refused to pay the homeowners associations, allowing homeowners to begin rebuilding their homes.

The last line of defense for most Californians is hiring an attorney once something goes terribly wrong, but it may be useful for any homeowner to contact an attorney with insurance experience to review a policy and see if they’ve purchased the proper amount of coverage.

A mass disaster tort is a civil action that involves a large group of plaintiffs who’ve suffered injuries and consolidate their cases to sue one or a few corporations in state or federal court.

KBK has many years of experience handling mass tort cases and multi-district litigation.

If you or a loved one has experienced injuries due to a disaster, a dangerous drug or a defective product, contact one of our experienced attorneys at Kabateck LLP to learn more about recovering damages and to explore your options.

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