Can I Sue for a Family Member’s Death in a Wildfire?

Fire can develop and spread rapidly in areas with large amounts of combustible vegetation. This usually happens in rural areas like forests, hills, and the like so it is called wildland fire or wildfire. It occurs every year in various degrees and in different parts of the country, though many of the worst cases seem to be concentrated on the West Coast. The raging fires can quickly cover miles of land and wreak havoc on communities. Many injuries and fatalities have been recorded in previous incidents. Many are asking, “Can I sue for a family member’s death in a wildfire?”

Causes of Wildfires

In order to answer this question, we must first have a clear idea about the causes of this destructive force.

Many of these are natural causes including lightning, dry climate, and volcanic eruption. If lightning happens to strike a dry tree, then the wood may ignite and affect the vegetation around it. There is a bigger chance of this spreading if the climate is dry and temperatures are high. A fire could ignite at small random area and rapidly expand because of all the ignitable material. In a volcanic eruption, lava could start a fire wherever it flows.  

It is also possible for humans to start fires in the wild. Sometimes people burn areas to clear them for farming and animal husbandry. In other cases, it is simple carelessness or even arson that leads to such destruction. Campers may try to cook meals the wrong way or throw cigarette butts onto dry grass. It is also possible for sparks from machinery and power structures to ignite a fire. In a few cases, the problem can be traced to arson or a willful burning with malicious intent. The arsonist may be purposefully trying to destroy the area for vengeance or enjoyment.

Wrongful Death

If your loved one dies in a wildfire, then you have every right to sue those responsible for your loss. Family members can specifically file a wrongful death claim in court to collect damages. Remember that some of these incidents were triggered by human actions, so the people can be made to pay compensation. It may also be possible to pin down an entity for its inaction or negligence. Several parties may have overseen preventing fires and failed to do so. This creates the issue of legal liability as a function of responsibility. Among those that have been previously taken to court for this type of case are local governments, the federal government, and utility companies.

Compensation for Damages

Since a lawsuit is a civil action, those who are found to be responsible will not be sent to jail but rather mandated by the court to pay compensation for the damages caused by the fire. The victims should get a reasonable amount to cover the medical bills, funeral expenses, lost wages, lost earning potential, and damages. The money will never really equal the loss of a loved one, but it can help the family get through a tough time. If the home was also lost in the fire, then starting again can be a long and difficult process.

Wildfire Litigation

This is a complex case given the extent of the damage, the number of victims, and the difficulty of determining the causes. Litigation will require the expertise of a Riverside wrongful death attorney that has specific knowledge and experience in dealing with wildfires and wrongful death. They should have enough resources to investigate the matter and a passion to fight for the victims, especially if powerful parties are named as defendants.

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