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Santa Barbara Mudslide Attorneys

Advocates for Mudslide Victims Being Denied Insurance Coverage

Santa Barbara has been devastated by a number of natural disasters. In December 2017, there were wildfires - the Rye, Creek, and Thomas Fires - which occurred in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. These fires may have been caused by negligence. Their intensity and rapid acceleration can be attributed to the longest drought in California’s history and the unusually strong Santa Ana winds that were blowing at the time. The Thomas Fire was particularly destructive, burning more than 440 square miles, making it the largest wildfire in modern California history. It destroyed at least 1,063 structures, damaged hundreds of others, and cost two lives - including that of a firefighter.

Just over a month after the fires began, rainstorms resulted in flash floods, debris flows, and mudslides. More than 20 people were killed by mudslides in Montecito alone, and two children are still missing. To date, this latest disaster destroyed at least 65 single-family homes and damaged 462 others. In addition, eight commercial properties were destroyed, and another 20 suffered serious damage.

Many of the property owners whose homes were destroyed or damaged were told that their insurance policies don’t cover damage from events like floods, debris flows, and mudslides.

If you feel that your insurance company is acting in bad faith by denying you coverage, you need to speak to an experienced attorney. For over 28 years, our legal team at NordstrandBlack PC has been standing up for rights of Santa Barbara citizens, seeing that they get the compensation they deserve. Call (805) 962-2022 for a free case evaluation.

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What Caused the Thomas Fire?

There is evidence that suggests Southern California Edison (SCE) may be partially responsible for the damage done by the Thomas Fire. The Thomas Fire actually began as two smaller fires that quickly merged and spread.

It is important to remember that the investigation into the causes of the Thomas Fire is still ongoing and there is no official report. What is known, however, is that work was being done by SCE in the area where the first fire started. The second fire may have been caused by an exploding transformer, which could make SCE ultimately liable for damage done by the Thomas Fire.

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Can I File a Lawsuit Against a Utility Company?

Yes, you can file a lawsuit against a utility company if it acted in a negligent manner that caused damage to you and your property. Utility companies do not enjoy any special protections against civil lawsuits, though your suit must have merit to move forward in court. There have already been several civil claims filed against Southern California Edison regarding the Thomas Fire. Since evidence shows the devastation of the fire was a proximate cause for ensuing mudslides, mudslide victims could also have grounds for a civil suit against Edison.

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Does Insurance Cover Mudslides?

We understand the shock and devastation that you, as a homeowner, must feel. First, your home is severely damaged or destroyed by a natural disaster. Then, you are told that your homeowners policy does not cover that particular event.

While most homeowners insurance policies don’t cover damage from floods, mudslides, debris flows, other similar events, the California Insurance Code requires insurers to adhere to the legal doctrine of "efficient proximate cause." Efficient proximate cause means that if a covered event, such as the Thomas Fire, was a contributing cause of the mudslides and debris flows, the insurer is legally bound to cover damage from the subsequent event. Experts tell us that trees and other foliage are vital in preventing landslides, mudslides, and other forms of soil erosion. Since the Thomas Fire destroyed so much foliage, it was therefore a direct or contributing cause to the following mudslides.

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones issued the following statement: "Californians have suffered greatly with all of the devastating losses from wildfires that struck the state in the last three months of 2017. Preliminary indications are that the Thomas Fire burned vegetation which would otherwise have absorbed rainfall and held soils in place, which in turn resulted in the mudflows, mudslides, debris flows, or landslides. If the evidence shows the Thomas Fire or another peril covered by a homeowner’s insurance policy was the efficient proximate cause of mudflow damage, I expect insurance companies to step up and cover these financial losses."

In addition, California State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson has introduced Senate Bill 917, which states that the Montecito mudslides are "directly attributable" to the Thomas Fire and that the resulting damage cannot be excluded from coverage.

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How Can I Maximize My Insurance Recovery?

Getting the most from an insurance claim comes down to properly filing the paperwork for the claim, understanding what is and is not covered, and being ready to deal with a low offer or denial of your claim. Having an experienced lawyer by your side can simplify the process and take some of the burden off your shoulders. An attorney will make sure you include everything you need and try to recover the full value of all your damaged and destroyed property.

If your claim is denied, or you are offered an insufficient amount, your attorney can help you negotiate a more appropriate amount of money, or file a claim against your insurance company. Insurers are not allowed to act in bad faith by denying an insurance claim that they must cover, but sometimes, you have to file your case in court to force insurance companies to do what is right.

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How Do I Get Reimbursed for Damages and Emotional Distress?

The best way to receive relief for things like property damage, emotional distress, and relocation costs after a disaster is through a civil lawsuit. Insurance companies typically only cover actual property damage, but the expenses and emotional toll can go far beyond that. A civil lawsuit allows you to seek damages due to how the disaster has impacted your life and how it will continue to do so in the future. When the disaster can be directly connected to someone's negligence, then you have the ability to hold them liable.

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Do You Need Help Filing a Claim?

Regardless of what their commercials may claim, insurance companies do not always act in your best interest. Insurance companies and their shareholders want to make the most profit possible. To do this, they may attempt to get their customers to accept smaller payouts, or deny legitimate claims on technicalities. Insurance companies employ armies of lawyers to fight against clients who challenge denied claims.

To get the compensation you deserve, you need a seasoned attorney to stand up to the insurance companies. NordstrandBlack PC has the experience, skill, and tenacity to hold insurance companies accountable to their clients. Call us today for a free consultation at (805) 962-2022.

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