Each year, about 1,700 fire departments in the Empire State respond to about 4,500 wildfires. Many of these fires cause considerable property damage and personal injury. For example, a 2018 fire around Ellensville consumed some 2,400 acres. For the first time in the state’s history, firefighters used air tankers to contain the blaze. Ellensville, a town in the Catskill Mountains, is only about 40 miles from New York City.
The compassionate wildfire lawyers at Napoli Shkolnik understand the life-altering nature of these events. We also understand that insurance companies, despite their statements to the contrary, do not always share this compassion. Whether you need to file a claim or are looking for compensation for your injuries, these companies do not put your best interests first. That position belongs to their stockholders. So, the professionals at Napoli Shkolnik are always in your corner fighting for you.
Insurance Company Responsibilities
Many wildfire claims involve an insurance company’s failure to timely pay a valid claim. Legally, insurance companies have a number of responsibilities in these matters, such as:
- Duty of Good Faith and Fair Dealing: Fundamentally, policyholders are not paying for financial protection. Instead, they are paying for peace of mind. So, insurance adjusters must treat people fairly. When they put stockholders first, they could be liable for punitive damages.
- Duty to Settle Claims: Many insurance companies try to avoid this duty by not making such promises in the policy. But courts usually enforce this duty, whether it is written in the policy or not. Property settlements must be for the insured value as opposed to the fair market value.
- Duty to Act Quickly: In most cases, insurance companies must acknowledge claims within fourteen days, begin their review within thirty days, and pay or deny the claim within ninety days. Insurance companies cannot use mass disasters, like large wildfires or strong hurricanes, as an excuse to drag their feet.
If policyholders must partner with a wildfire lawyer to preserve their rights, the insurance company is usually responsible for the policyholder’s legal fees. Additionally, in most cases, insurance companies bear the entire financial loss in these situations. They usually cannot shift blame onto the policyholders, perhaps by claiming they failed to do everything possible to prevent the loss.
Policyholders have some responsibilities as well. For example, they must provide current contact information to the insurance company. Failure to do so could delay the claims process.
Bad Faith Insurance Claims
In the wake of wildfires and other disasters, insurance companies stand to lose millions of dollars. Many will do almost anything to avoid paying claims. At common law, bad faith insurance claims have two basic elements:
- Benefits Withheld: The policy must be legally valid and paid up. Additionally, the insurance company must have denied benefits in writing. Many clever adjusters think they know how to deny benefits without actually using the d-word. These adjusters have not crossed swords with Napoli Law’s professionals.
- Unreasonable Denial: Unless the insurance company misses the aforementioned deadlines, mere negligence is usually not enough to prove bad faith. Examples of such conduct include misrepresenting facts, failure to set up a proper claims infrastructure, and refusal to provide a reasonable explanation for the adverse action.
Statutory relief might be available as well, under Section 2601 of the New York Insurance Law. Essentially, policyholders must prove that the insurance company grossly disregarded the insured’s interests. Some examples include failure to negotiate in good faith and requiring the insured party to offset part of the loss.
These rules do not just apply to real property losses. Personal injury victims, even if they are not policyholders, might also be eligible for financial relief.
Wildfire Lawyers and Negligence Claims
Frequently, this financial relief is in the form of third party negligence damages. These damages usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
Individual carelessness, such as illegal campfires or trash burning, causes many wildfires. It’s very difficult for wildfire lawyers to prove negligence by a preponderance of the evidence in these cases.
Other times, however, the situation is different. California claims against Pacific Gas and Electric are a good example. PG&E owns and operates high-tension power lines and other power infrastructure in Northern California. A single spark from a single transformer is sufficient to ignite an inferno. If the company knew, or should have known, about the hazard, the company is legally responsible for wildfire-related damages and injuries.
Insurance companies and negligent parties (tortfeasors) alike know our reputation. They do not want to challenge us in court. So, these claims could settle early and on victim-friendly terms.
When insurance companies refuse to step up to the plate, the experienced wildfire lawyers at Napoli Shkolnik PLLC hold them accountable. Contact us today for a free consultation. We handle wildfire claims on a nationwide basis.