While most people know that wildfire victims residing in counties declared federal disaster are eligible for FEMA aid, there are also some legal assistance services available to low-income individuals through Disaster Legal Services (DLS). The legal help is available through an agreement between FEMA and the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association. However, there are some limitations to this program. It is available only to low income individuals who have a legal need as a result of the wildfires and they are unable to secure legal services adequate to meet their needs. And it only applies to individuals who reside in areas declared a major disaster area by the President. At this time that includes Sonoma, Napa, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada, Orange and Yuba counties.
The legal assistance is limited to issues or cases that will not produce any fee. These are instances where the attorney is paid as part of the settlement either via a contingency fee agreement or by Court award. The typical assistance provided includes:
- Assistance with apply for FEMA aid and other governmental benefits available to disaster survivors.
- Preparation of new legal documents lost in the fire such as wills and powers of attorney.
- Assistance with reviewing home repair contracts and contractors.
- Assistance with insurance claims including property insurance, medical insurance or bills as well as life insurance issues.
- Mortgage and foreclosure issues.
- Advice regarding problems with landlords as a result of the fires.
For additional information or to apply you can visit:
The ABA Legal hotline at (415) 575-3120. Hours are 8:30 am to 5:30 pm, Monday-Friday. Beginning October 23, 2017, the hours will be to 8:00 am to 8:00 pm Monday-Thursday. Callers can leave messages after hours.
Civil Lawsuits for Uninsured Damages and Insurance Claims
If you need assistance with a more complicated matter related to the fire, such as whether there may be potential civil claims for damages from the fire or against an insurer for denying a claim or underpaying a claim, feel free to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached at (800) 736-9085 or email one of our wildfire attorneys at [email protected]
While the exact cause(s) of the fires has not been determined, there is strong evidence that at least some of the fires, including the Santa Rosa fire, were caused by downed power lines or exploding transformers. This is not an uncommon cause of wildfires in California. The 2007 wildfires outbreak in San Diego County was caused by downed SDG&E power lines. SDG&E ended up paying homeowners and businesses over $2.4 billion for damages caused by the wildfire.