Inverse Condemnation: The Most Popular Strategy for California Wildfire Lawsuits
With wildfires erupting across the nation, people are considering a number of legal strategies as they pursue compensation. One such strategy is “inverse condemnation,” and it has a proven track record of success in California. But what exactly is inverse condemnation, and could this strategy really help wildfire victims cover their damages? Although this strategy might seem complex, the basic premise is straightforward.
If you are wondering whether this strategy might help you pursue compensation, consider getting in touch with a wildfire attorney in California. While internet research is a positive first step, the most effective strategy depends on your unique circumstances. During your consultation with an attorney, you can discuss these factors and choose the most appropriate route toward compensation.
The Basics of Inverse Condemnation
According to the League of California Cities, inverse condemnation allows property owners to pursue compensation if their properties suffer damage due to public use. “Public use” in this context refers to the use of property by the government. These include government agencies and utilities.
Inverse condemnation relies on the Takings Clause of the United States and California Constitutions. The “takings” aspect of the Takings Clause refers to the government taking private property for public use. For example, a government agency may purchase several acres of farmland in order to build a power plant. They may also purchase land to build roads or power lines.
Governments are allowed to do this because of another legal concept called “eminent domain.” Eminent domain allows governments to take private land only if the owners are compensated. In other words, they must pay for the land – and cannot simply seize it without compensation.
The “inverse” aspect of inverse condemnation refers to the opposite of eminent domain. If eminent domain exists, then governments are not only responsible for providing compensation for the land that they take. They are also responsible for providing compensation for any private property that becomes damaged while they use public land.
Since private utility companies must adhere to the laws of eminent domain, they must also adhere to inverse condemnation. In other words, if a power company sparks a wildfire, it must pay for the damage caused to everyone affected. Many wildfires may be sparked by negligence by a utility company. For example, a utility company’s power lines may malfunction, sparking an electrical fire that spreads to nearby forests.
Strict Liability and Inverse Condemnation
While a fire may be sparked by a negligent utility company, it is not entirely necessary to prove the presence of negligence. This is because in an inverse condemnation case, utility companies can be held “strictly liable.” This means that as long as you can show that the fire occurred on the utility company’s land, this is often enough. It does not matter whether or not the fire was foreseeable. The only real requirement is that the fire occurred due to the use of the property, whether that “use” was negligent or not.
It is worth mentioning that California’s strict liability rule is unique in the United States, which makes it easier to file these claims compared with other jurisdictions. Secondly, California extends this liability to private entities in addition to purely government agencies. This also makes these claims easier in the Golden State, as plaintiffs can hold a wider range of entities liable for damages.
The Limitations of Inverse Condemnation
Although inverse condemnation is a viable strategy in California, there are certain limitations that plaintiffs should be aware of. First of all, it is important to note that this strategy is only available to property owners and not tenants. If you did not purchase the land that was affected by forest fires, it is difficult to pursue this strategy. California has the second-lowest rate of homeownership in the entire nation, which means that many of those affected by wildfires are tenants. Only about 18% of residents own property, according to the most recent estimates.
Another potential downside is that the costs associated with inverse condemnation payouts affect the cost of utilities for the entire population. If a utility company is faced with paying out millions of dollars in settlements to wildfire victims, it will inevitably pass on these costs to its consumers. This means that although wildfire victims may walk away with settlements, the entire population of California will end up paying more for electricity for the foreseeable future. While this argument is valid, it is often used by big corporations and government officials who wish to avoid paying out sums to people whose lives have been ravaged by wildfires.
Changes to California’s Inverse Condemnation Laws Have Been Suggested
For many years, government officials and big corporations in California have been pushing for changes to inverse condemnation laws. This means that if wildfires continue at their present pace, victims may eventually lose the ability to pursue this strategy. However, government officials have faced serious opposition from the general public whenever they suggest such changes.
In 2019, Governor Newsom suggested that utility companies should face less liability for wildfires, and Cal Matters immediately reported that even this mere suggestion had ignited a “hornet’s nest” of opposition. A recent paper published by the Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal calls for a fault-based rule rather than strict liability, which would maintain the strategy’s viability while allowing utility companies to prove they were not to blame for wildfires.
Where Can I Find a Qualified Wildfire Attorney in California?
If you have been searching for a wildfire attorney in California, look no further than Mary Alexander & Associates. With our help, you can explore various strategies to pursue much-needed compensation after a disastrous California wildfire. We know that these natural events can lead to widespread suffering and property damage – but you’re not alone in this battle. With a qualified attorney at your side, you can move forward with a sense of confidence and efficiency. Book your consultation today and learn more about potential strategies for compensation after a California wildfire.