About the Woolsey Fire Lawsuit
The Woolsey Fire is personal for Robertson & Associates. Members of our firm were forced to evacuate, fought to save their homes with a fire hose (and their neighbor’s), and had many friends and relatives lose their houses. The fire burned just across the street from our Westlake Village office – it’s smoke and ash at our door. We have felt the effects of this tragedy firsthand.
As we are holding Southern California Edison (SCE) accountable for the 2017 Thomas Fire and 2018 Montecito Debris Flow (currently representing over 946 residents), so will we hold SCE answerable for the Woolsey Fire’s destruction. We were among the first to file lawsuits against SCE (in December 2017) for the Thomas Fire, and first to file against them for the Montecito Debris Flow, as well as the 2018 Roadrunner Fire. Our team is actively litigating those cases, and serving in court-appointed leadership positions in those cases.
Our team is composed of four law firms: Robertson & Associates, LLP; Foley, Bezek, Behle, Curtis, LLP; Law Offices of Joe Liebman, and Spreter & Petiprin, APC. We have unique experience in wildfire litigation, earth movement, landslide, construction defect, and mass tort.
Our team is also among the most experienced wildfire lawyers in California, having represented those affected by the:
- 2007 San Diego Wildfires (San Diego, CA)
- 2011 Caughlin Ranch Fires (Reno, NV)
- 2013 Pfeiffer Fire (Big Sur, CA)
- 2015 Butte Fire (Calaveras County, CA)
- 2016 Erskine Fire (Lake Isabella, CA)
- 2017 North Bay Fires (Sonoma County, CA)
- 2017 Thomas Fire (Ventura County, CA)
- 2018 Montecito Debris Flow (Santa Barbara, CA)
- 2018 Roadrunner Fire (Newbury Park, CA)
- 2018 Woolsey Fire (Ventura,Los Angeles, CA)
How is SCE Liable if High Winds are to Blame for the Woolsey Fire?
The California Constitution contains a provision that provides for a legal claim known as inverse condemnation. The theory holds that if a governmental entity takes” or “damages” property of a citizen during its operations, the entity is strictly liable for the harm. The entity is liable for the fair-market value of the property harmed. The claim is like eminent domain (where the Gov. initiates a legal action to take your property), except the order is reversed, which is why the claim is called inverse condemnation.
Currently, under inverse condemnation, utilities such as SCE have strict liability for fire damages caused by their equipment, even when homeowners can’t demonstrate the utilities were negligent. Inverse condemnation has been applied to utilities in California for almost twenty years (since SCE was found liable under the theory for a 1993 fire, in Barham v. So Cal. Edison Co (2012) 208 Cal.App.4th 1400), so the precedent is well-established. The benefit of holding SCE legally responsible under inverse condemnation is that we need not show negligence on SCE’s part, all that we need to prove in order to prevail, is that SCE facilities, its wires or transformers, caused the Woolsey Fire.
In addition to inverse condemnation, our team is also pursuing additional legal theories against SCE, including negligence, nuisance, trespass, as well as breaches of statutory regulations. Under these theories, SCE can be held liable for damages greater than the fair-market value of your lost property. And the damages are much broader in scope, including, but are not limited to: replacement costs for real and personal property, trees, landscaping, erosion remediation, lost income and business profits, personal injury, emotional distress, annoyance, discomfort, and inconvenience, and the loss of cherished possessions and family heirlooms.
What if I Have Insurance?
Unfortunately, many fire survivors have discovered that they do not have adequate insurance to cover all the costs associated with repairing or replacing their damaged homes and personal property. In these cases, fire survivors are out-of-pocket the difference. The reason for this gap in insurance coverage are numerous: insurer brokers often underestimate the cost to rebuild a home or replace property; insurers provide only a fixed amount to rebuild your home, which is often times depreciated, and not at today’s market rates. Also, the amounts allotted to replace personal property are greatly depreciated. And often whole categories are exempted or paid out at less than 100%. For example, landscaping is often paid out at $500 per tree or as percentage of your dwelling coverage, which is well below the actual replacement cost. Some polices cover debris removal and code upgrades, while others don’t. Each insurance policy is different.
Moreover, insurance does not cover the non-economic damages that you incurred. Among other things, it does not cover: personal injuries caused by the fire, such as smoke inhalation, and the emotional distress associated with the evacuation, nor the time spent away from your home and loved ones, as well as time spent on the insurance claims and rebuild process.
Our team has over 30 years of experience dealing with insurance companies. We assist you in the preparation of personal-property lists, and other itemized losses, as well as advocating on your behalf with your adjusters, so that you get the maximum payout you are entitled to under your policy.
How Much Does a Wildfire Lawyer Cost?
We prosecute all fire cases on a contingency basis. This means we front all the out-of-pocket costs, and you pay nothing unless we successfully recover for you. If we don’t obtain a recovery for you, you do not pay any fees or costs.
How Can SCE Pay for the Damage Caused by the Woolsey and Thomas Fires?
Many clients have inquired about SCE’s ability to pay claims arising from the Thomas and Woolsey Fires. SCE has a twenty-billion-dollar market cap, adequate insurance (over $1billion for each calendar year), and access to capital markets. Recently, in their 4th quarter 2018 earnings call, SCE stated they expect to pay $1.8 billion, after insurance and tax benefits, for damages arising from the: Thomas Fire, Montecito Debris Flow, and Woolsey Fire. In relevant part, SCE stated:
“Also, consistent with prior quarters, we are providing our SCE key drivers analysis at the prior combined statutory tax rate of approximately 41% for both 2018 and 2017 for comparability purposes. Before we take a look at our core earnings drivers, let me provide a bit more detail regarding the $1.8 billion non-core charge related to the 2017, 2018 wildfires and mudslide events that Pedro mentioned earlier. Please turn to Page 2. We have recorded a gross charge related to these events of $4.7 billion prior to recoveries and taxes which represents the lower end of a reasonably estimated range of outcomes. We have also recorded a $2 billion insurance receivable and a $135 million regulatory asset related to FERC recovery; the combination of these results in the $1.8 billion after-tax charge.”
SCE Wildfire-Related Charge Summary
For the year ended December 31, 2018, the income statements include the estimated losses (established at the lower end of the reasonably estimated range of expected losses), net of expected recoveries from insurance and FERC customers, related to the 2017/2018 Wildfire/Mudslide Events (as defined in the 10-K filed on February 28, 2019) as follows:
- (Note: See Use of Non-GAAP Financial Measures 2018)
- Charge for wildfire-related claims: $4,669
- Expected insurance recoveries: $2,000
- Expected revenue from FERC customers: $135
- Total pre-tax charge: $2,534
- Income tax benefit: $709
- Total after-tax charge: $1,825
As evidenced by previous California wildfire settlements, (San Diego Gas & Electric settled over 2,000 fire claims [totaling over $2.4 billion] relating to the 2007 San Diego Wildfires, and Pacific Gas & Electric resolved over 1,000 claims [paying out close to $1 billion] for the 2015 Butte Fire, responsible utilities have the resources to compensate fire victims.