Press Release

The Mountain View wildfires that devastated more than 20,000 acres of land in Mono County, destroyed over 80 structures and left at least one person dead, were one of the most serious in 2020. Sadly, ongoing investigation suggests that the fires were not entirely accidental, and that Liberty Utilities may have been partially responsible for the fires.

California suffers numerous wildfires every year, and a disproportionate number of these occur due to faulty electrical equipment, or just plain negligence on the part of utility companies. Unfortunately, every time another of these wildfires, gas explosions or other fire incidents occur, it results in terrible damage and creates severe upheaval in the lives of residents.

If you or a loved one lost property, suffered injuries or were exposed to loss arising out of these wildfires in any way, you may be entitled to compensation. California law gives you the right to seek justice and fair compensation where you suffered loss in a fire caused by a company’s negligence.

At Singleton Schreiber, we have been investigating these fires and are working with experts to identify the exact events that led to the fire and the extent of Liberty Utilities’ role in the disaster. If you were affected by these fires in any way, our California fire litigation attorneys would like to speak with you. We may be able to help you mitigate your loss and recover compensation that allows you to move on with your life.

California suffers a disproportionate amount of wildfires
Wildfires happen all too frequently in California. The year 2020 has been especially devastating, with more than 9,000 fires already experienced during the year, according to CAL FIRE. The fires have already burned well over 4 million acres of land, and have directly and indirectly led to the damage or destruction of more than 10,000 structures.

Hundreds of thousands of people in California have been victims of these fires in many ways, both directly and indirectly. Many have lost their homes, businesses, livelihood, precious possessions, and in at least 31 cases, people have lost their loved ones, who they will never see again.

These fires happened due to multiple reasons. While climate change and unsustainable forest management practices have been identified as major causes of the fires, negligence on the part of utility companies and equipment malfunction are also a significant cause. Two major fires in 2020 were found to have been caused by downed SCE power lines, and several more are being investigated, including the Mountain View wildfires.

The Mountain View wildfires
The Mountain View fires erupted in the Eastern Sierra, along the border between Nevada and California. The fires ignited on Tuesday, November 18 and quickly swept down the mountains, engulfing the small town of Walker and other parts of Mono County.

More than 80 structures, including homes and businesses were destroyed in the fire, and hundreds of people have been displaced due to the inferno. Those who witnessed the fire reported seeing a wall of fire up to “80-100 feet high”, and many barely had enough time to escape with their family, a pet or two, and the clothes on their back. But some were not so lucky, including 69-year old Sallie Joseph, who lost her life in the fire.

While the cause of the fire is still being investigated, questions are being asked about the conduct of Liberty Utilities, which operates several utility services in the area, including electricity. The company is alleged to have failed to respond quickly enough to the fire to shut down power going to the affected areas and help stem the growth of the conflagration. This may have either helped the fires grow or could have enabled the fires to burn longer, thereby putting more lives at risk.

Liberty Utilities’ own wildfire mitigation policies advocate a public safety power shutoff that prescribes “proactively [turning] off power when and where conditions present an increased wildfire risk.” However, preliminary indications are that this was not either done quickly enough or comprehensively enough.

Liability for negligent conduct
Under California’s wildfire liability law, utility companies are strictly liable for any acts or omissions that lead to wildfires in the state. The state applies a principle of “inverse condemnation” to determine liability, and where the company has any involvement in the emergence of the fires, it may be held responsible.

This may be the case even if there was no negligence on the part of the company. So long as its equipment led to the damage or helped its occurrence, victims of the fire may be able to proceed against the utility company for compensation for the loss they have suffered.

The principle of strict liability operates on the basis that certain acts or omissions are too weighty to be taken lightly. For instance, electricity is a very dangerous resource and when mishandled, can create terrible devastation for residents in California. As a result, the strict liability laws aim to create an exceedingly high standard of conduct on the part of utility companies.

Where they fail to adhere to the standard of conduct required of them, which includes proactively carrying out maintenance to ensure that fire risk is at the barest minimum, they can be held accountable.

However, there has been a recent adjustment to these principles of liability. In 2019, the state of California set up a billion-dollar wildfire trust fund to be utilized in paying for damage suffered by residents from wildfires. However, victims of the fire would only be entitled to compensation upon proof that the utility company was negligent in the conduct of its duties, thereby creating the hazard or encouraging it.

Negligence is a principle of liability that essentially means someone failed to do what they should, or acted in a way they should not have. To succeed in a claim of negligence, the victim will be required to show that:

  • The defendant owed a duty of care. The duty of care is the responsibility to not act in any way that creates or encourages a fire hazard, or fail to act to reduce this risk.
  • The defendant breached the duty of care. The duty of care is breached when the defendant acts contrary to what the law requires. In this case, the breach occurs when it is proved that Liberty Utilities failed to shut off power to the affected areas when they should have, leading to more damage from the fires.
  • Damage resulted from the defendant’s actions. Each victim must show how they suffered damage due to the defendant’s breach.

Establishing these facts can be difficult. This is why it is important to immediately reach out to one of our fire litigation attorneys to understand how the law applies to you and your chances of recovering compensation.

Likely compensation that can be awarded
For victims that are able to show their loss and prove negligence, it may be possible to recover compensation that may include:

  • Structure Damage
  • Lost Wages
  • Evacuation Expenses
  • Wrongful Death
  • Loss of Pets / Livestock
  • Physical Injuries
  • Personal Property
  • Emotional Trauma

But the process to recover compensation begins with speaking to an attorney about the loss you have suffered and learning what your options are to secure justice.

Contact the fire attorneys at Singleton Schreiber today
If you or a loved one suffered loss due to the Mountain View wildfires, we would like to help you recover compensation. Contact Singleton Schreiber today to speak with our fire litigation attorneys about your case.

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