A Look Into California’s Wildfire Insurance Denial Problem

Wildfire Damage Lawyer Los Angeles

About 26 million residents in the states of California and Arizona are under red flag warnings because of the recent wildfires in the area, according to CNN’s most recent coverage of these events. These fires have scorched acres of natural, residential, and commercial land and continue to threaten thousands of California homes as they spread.

While these blazes pose severe threats to human life and properties, some insurance companies may be backing off their services for residents in the state. Know all about these fires and why insurance claims for them are being denied.

State of the Wildfires

As of late November, there have been 6,402 wildfires in California for 2019. Here are the most significant ones in the year.

  • The Kincade Fire – This was the state’s largest wildfire in 2019, with over 77,758 acres of land razed in Sonoma County, and destroyed or damaged more than 120 structures. It started in late October and was declared 100% contained in early November.
  • The Maria Fire – This started in late October and burned 9,999 acres of land. The Ventura County Fire Department contained it on November 7th.
  • The Tick Fire – The Tick Fire charred 4,615 acres of land in the Santa Clarita area and raged from October 24th to 31st. One of the properties it completely destroyed was a family farm. The owners were only able to save 20 animals from their burnt-down property.
  • The Cave Fire – This brush fire in Santa Barbara County has threatened several residential communities, prompting evacuations. It has been mostly contained by rain and the efforts of the fire crews. At the time of this posting, it is still ongoing, and has already damaged 4367 acres.
  • The Getty Fire – This started in late October and took eight houses in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Fire Department fully contained the blaze on November 5th, after it burned 745 acres of land.

Denied Claims

Despite eight wildfires ravaging the state this year, causing an estimated $80 billion worth of damage, a lot of Californians are still having their insurance claims denied. A report by CBS News found that insurance companies refuse to protect over 350,000 property owners in the state.

And the 33,000 people who were successfully insured before were barred from having their contracts renewed.  Insurers don’t want to provide coverage because they deemed the properties as too much of a fire risk.

These conditions are unacceptable, especially if you’ve lost thousands of dollars in property, or worse, your loved ones in a wildfire. This is why it’s crucial to hire a law firm that handles wrongful death and bad faith insurance claims. Companies that may have unwittingly started some of the fires with their equipment ,and insurers who deny claims or protection from wildfires must be held accountable.

Conclusion: The Way Forward

Wildfires are often unavoidable natural occurrences. As such, people who live in wildfire-prone areas must have their properties insured. Those who were denied coverage are now getting the Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) Plan to protect their valuable homes. FAIR was explicitly created for individuals who are denied insurance because they live in high-risk areas. While this plan is only seen as a last resort, it gives owners peace of mind knowing that they’ll receive compensation for the items and properties they may lose in the event of another fire.

Get the Compensation You Deserve

If you’re one of the residents or business owners whose wildfire insurance claims were denied, speak with an experienced lawyer immediately. Haffner Law provides representation for those who were injured, lost their loved one, or had their property destroyed because of other people’s negligence. We offer our legal services in Los Angeles and neighboring cities.

Contact us at 1-844-HAFFNER or 213-514-5681 today for a free, no-obligation case review from an experienced lawyer.

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Elements of a Valid Wrongful Death Lawsuit

wrongful death attorney in los angeles

When someone you love suffers from an injury or other damages due to another party’s action or negligence, you can file a personal injury lawsuit to receive compensation from the at-fault party. But, if your loved one dies because of the other party’s action, you may file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Losing a loved one, no matter the circumstances, is an overwhelming experience and you might find yourself stuck or confused about what you should do next. This is why you should immediately contact a wrongful death attorney who will assist you during the process.

A wrongful death lawyer will help you recover damages, including financial losses and emotional costs, that are a result of your loved one’s death. Your wrongful death attorney will work with you in gathering the necessary documentation as quickly as possible so you may be able to file a lawsuit in a timely manner.

However, in filing a wrongful death lawsuit, it is important that you understand that certain elements need to be present in your claim. Below are the four elements of a valid wrongful death lawsuit:

Duty of Care

The first element in a wrongful death lawsuit is it must prove that the defendant owed a duty of due care to the deceased person. Duty of care essentially means that one party must act with the other party’s safety in mind. For example, if your loved one died in a vehicular accident, you must prove that the other party has the duty to drive in reasonably safe manner by following traffic rules.

Breach of Duty of Care

Once you have identified that duty of care exists, you need evidence to prove that the liable party’s willful or negligent act breached that duty, leading to the wrongful death of your deceased loved one. Going back to the previous example, you must present evidence that the accused party breached his duty of care by driving under the influence, violating traffic rules, or committing other negligent behavior.

Causation

After you have established that the duty of care owed by the defendant was breached, you must be able to prove that the defendant’s negligence directly caused your loved one’s death. Using the same example, your evidence should prove that it was actually the defendant’s car that struck your loved one, causing fatal injuries.

Damages

Once you have proof for the first three criteria, the last element that you need to prove is that the wrongful death resulted in quantifiable damages such as the deceased person’s hospitalization, funeral, and burial costs along with future income and loss of inheritance. You can also include non-economic damages such as pain and suffering and loss of love, companionship, care, or moral support.

A Wrongful Death Attorney Can Help You

In a wrongful death lawsuit, you must prove that the four elements described above meet the burden of proof. The burden of proof is not measured by how much evidence you can present, but by the quality and credibility of the evidence you have.

Filing a wrongful death lawsuit can be complicated. Our lawyers at Haffner Law can provide proper representation and help you build a solid case to prove the four elements of a wrongful death claim.

For a free consultation, contact us today.

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Does Life Insurance Pay for a Loved One’s Death by Suicide?

Life Insurance lawyer los angeles

In the US, one of the earliest and most notable cases of life insurance claims after a person’s death by suicide occurred in 1871. Mary Terry filed a death benefit claim of $2000 with her husband George Terry’s insurance company, Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York. Her husband died from self-administered poison. The insurance company denied the claim, prompting Mary Terry to file a lawsuit.

In 2017, 47,173 Americans died by suicide, making it the tenth leading cause of death in the country. Apart from the emotional and mental stress that usually comes with suicide, there are also financial aspects to address. In 2015, suicide and self-injury cost the country $69 billion, based on data culled by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. For those who were left behind, below are some points to consider before filing an insurance policy claim.

Importance of the Suicide Clause

According to Nerdwallet, if your loved one had free life insurance, which their employer paid, the policy typically covers the death. If your loved one purchased the policy through an employment program, you may file a claim, provided that the policy took effect more than two years ago.

Even if the policy explicitly states that the insurance company does not cover death by suicide, the insurer still owes family members the total amount of premium the policyholder paid before they passed away.  Again, the insurance must have been bought two years prior to the death.

The suicide clause protects insurance companies from being compelled to pay beneficiaries the entire insurance amount in a planned death. It also prevents individuals from using life insurance as a way to leave money behind when they execute their exit plan.  This applies to those who opt for physician-assisted suicide if this has been proven.

What to Do When Claims Are Denied

If your claim for a loved one’s insurance policy has been denied, consulting a life insurance lawyer in Los Angeles is your best course of action. Lawyers will review the policy, suicide clause, and incontestability clause to determine your eligibility. They will also work with the family in following up the claim with the insurance company.

If there is evidence that the insurance carrier wrongfully or unfairly denied the death benefit claim, you may choose to file a legal complaint against the company. If the insurance company persists in denying the claim, the burden of proof that the death was due to suicide lies in them, not you.

Going back to the Life Ins. Co v. Terry case, the defendant, Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York, claimed that George Terry died by his own hand and that the company wasn’t liable for any claim. Mary Terry, on the other hand, argued that her husband acted that way due to his mental condition. Had the condition been proven, the company would have been forced to pay the death benefit, but in the end, the court did not hold the insurer liable.

Suicide makes the death of a loved one doubly devastating, and the financial impact adds to it, as well. But if your loved one was insured, there may be a chance for you to have financial relief after their demise.

If you need a life insurance lawyer in Los Angeles to help you with your claims, reach out to us today for a free consultation.

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Intimate Acquaintance Testimony For Brain Injury Cases

brain injury lawyer los angeles

The testimony of intimate acquaintances of a victim is a valuable tool in a mental or brain injury cases.  Unlike outward physical injuries, such as a broken bone or a third-degree burn, brain injuries can manifest in ways that are subtle and often cannot easily be demonstrated.  For example, those suffering from a brain injury may experience changes in personality, conduct, and thought process.

These changes are often noticed by lay persons who are very familiar with the injured person, such as family members, close friends, and even coworkers.  Fortunately, you don’t necessarily need to be a trained expert to testify about the mental impact of an injury as California’s Evidence Code permits “intimate acquaintances” to testify regarding the mental condition regardless of whether the person is qualified as an expert witness under the California Evidence Code.  “A witness may state his opinion as to the sanity of a person when: (a) The witness is an intimate acquaintance of the person whose sanity is in question.”  (Cal. Evid. Code §870(a).)

Moreover, despite the language of the statute being couched in terms of “sanity,” such testimony is not limited to the black and white question of whether a person is sane or insane.  “The opinion of nonexpert witnesses may be given on those matters which are too subtle or complex to permit adequate presentation in any other way and this is the basis for intimate acquaintance rule in question.”  (Schomaker v. Provoo (1950) 96 Cal.App.2d 738, 741.)  Thus, although Evidence Code section 870 is couched in terms of sanity, its basis is not limited strictly to the determination of whether a person is sane or insane and can be used to elicit opinions about an injured person’s mental state.

There is no set definition of “intimate acquaintance.” (In re Budan’s Estate, (1909) 156 Cal. 230, 234 (The meaning of the term ‘intimate acquaintance’ has not been clearly defined.”).)  However, the Supreme Court has provided some insight, stating “[t]o be such an [intimate] acquaintance necessarily requires a familiarity with the mental temperament of the person…in question.”  (Ibid.)  And “familiarity is not measured exclusively by … length time” and length of time is merely a non-controlling element of the determination.  (Ibid.)  Indeed, a person who is “closely connected” and has sufficient opportunity to observe the conduct and demeanor of the person in question may be an intimate acquaintance despite only knowing a person for a short period of time.  (Ibid.)  Essentially, the question of whether a witness will qualify as an “intimate acquaintance” is based on the totality of the circumstances.

The ability of an intimate acquaintance to testify about an injured person’s mental state and the impact of the brain injury can be important in a brain injury case.  Often it is the best evidence of issues relating to liability (where, for instance, a changed mental state should have been appreciated), as well as to the existence and extent of brain damage.

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Wrongful Death And The Nominal Defendant

Wrongful Death Lawyer Los Angeles

When someone is killed due to the wrongful conduct of another, this is typically called a wrongful death and gives rise to a particular cause of action of the same name.  In California, each of the heirs of the deceased have a right to bring a wrongful death lawsuit (called a ‘survival action’) against the person (or persons) who committed the wrongful acts.  (Code of Civ. Procedure, § 377.60.) If you are in the unfortunate position of having a loved one pass away Haffner Law can help.

WHAT IF ALL THE HEIRS DO NOT WANT TO FILE A LAWSUIT?

Even if other ‘heirs’ (generally speaking: spouses, brothers/sisters, children) do not want to file a lawsuit, you can still hold bad actors responsible for the death of a beloved family member.  As filing a lawsuit is a significant decision it is a good idea to talk it over with your family, but in the end, it is your decision whether to file a lawsuit over your loss of a loved one.  If any other known heirs do not want to participate in the lawsuit, then those heirs should become what is called a nominal defendant.  (See Watkins v. Nutting (1941) 17 Cal.2d 490, 498 [as long as the heirs are somehow made a party to the lawsuit, the defendant does not have grounds to object to the procedure in which the heirs were joined].)

WHAT IS A NOMINAL DEFENDANT?

Calling the heirs that do not want to participate in a wrongful death lawsuit “nominal defendants” is a bit of a misnomer.  Indeed, a nominal defendant is “in reality and in legal effect” a plaintiff.  (Ferraro v. Camarlinghi (2008) 161 Cal.App.4th 509, 556, as modified on denial of reh’g (Apr. 24, 2008) [internal citations omitted]; see Watkins, supra, at p. 498.)

WHAT DOES BEING A NOMINAL DEFENDANT MEAN?

The procedural device for allowing a party to bring in a nominal defendant is Code of Civil Procedure section 382.  “The statute’s purpose is to protect the active parties to a lawsuit by effecting the involuntary joinder of a recalcitrant plaintiff.  This ensures that the party so joined will be bound by any resulting adjudication.”  (Ferraro, supra, at p. 536 [emphasis in original].)  As California’s wrongful death statute gives all heirs the right to bring the lawsuit, each of the known heirs should be made a part of the lawsuit so that all parties and the jury know of each heir’s existence and relationship to deceased family member.  (Watkins, supra, at p. 499.)  Generally speaking, a nominal defendant cannot subsequently sue the wrongdoer because of the ‘one action rule’ – a wrongful death cause of action must be brought in a single lawsuit.  (Romero v. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (2007) 156 Cal.App.4th 211, 216; Smith v. Premier Alliance Ins. Co. (1995) 41 Cal.App.4th 691, 697 [a defendant cannot be subjected to another lawsuit by an omitted heir of whom the defendant had no knowledge].)  Thus, while there are exceptions (e.g., unknown heir, lack of proper service on nominal defendant), once all heirs are made nominal defendants the wrongful death lawsuit would be complete and precluded from being later asserted.

WHAT IF AN HEIR IS NOT MADE A NOMINAL DEFENDANT?

The crux of being able to appropriately make an heir a nominal defendant is whether that heir is known to either the plaintiff(s) or the defendant(s).  (See Smith, supra, at p. 697; Romero, supra, at pp. 217-219.)  Should a known heir (or heirs) be omitted from a lawsuit, the plaintiff(s) would be liable to the omitted heir(s) for any damages that resulted.  (Watkins, supra, at p. 499; Romero, supra, at p. 217.)  However, if the defendant(s) had knowledge of any heirs that were not made a part of the wrongful death lawsuit, then the defendant(s) would have waived the ‘one action rule’; meaning that those unnamed heirs may be able to bring a separate wrongful death lawsuit.  (Smith, supra, at p. 697; Romero, supra, at pp. 217-219.)  Further, even where the heirs are named as nominal defendants, the actual defendants have an obligation to ensure that those nominal defendants were properly made a part of the lawsuit; failing to do so may waive the ‘one action rule.’  (Romero, supra, at p. 219 [holding a separate wrongful death lawsuit was allowed as the defendant failed to ensure that the previously-named nominal defendant was properly served with process].)

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