The wildfires in British Columbia, Washington State, Oregon, and California in 2020 were horrendous. There was a week that I couldn’t go outside without wearing an N95 mask. British Columbia, which normally has the best air quality, was suddenly ranked above China and India for air pollution.
Smoke in the summers started about four years ago. When it started in the summer of 2016, the smoke would only last a few days and would be high in the sky. There would be no ground-level smoke, so there were no health risks. In the summer of 2020, if you put your head out the window, it smelled like you were standing next to a campfire. Your eyes would water after being exposed to the smoke for a few hours.
The smoke this year added a new layer of mental health stress and health risks on top of COVID-19. I wrote an article on who we can sue for COVID-19, but who can we sue for the mental and physical health damage from the wildfires?
Who Can Be Sued for the Wildfires?
The largest of the many wildfires started when a couple organized a party in California. The party was to show their friends and family the gender of their baby. The fire started when a smoke machine produced blue smoke to show that they are having a baby boy. This caused the fire that destroyed millions of acres of forest and caused massive health damage as far away as Alberta, Canada. This reminds me of the couple that made a pipebomb for their gender reveal party. A grandmother was killed.
If wildfires are causing billions in dollars in damages, there must be someone we can sue to compensate us for our suffering. There are two groups you can sue, insurance companies or the people that started the fire.
Lawsuits Against Insurance Companies
Insurance companies are the ones that payout the most compensation because of wildfires. In the 2020 California wildfires, there were 6,223 buildings destroyed.
These insurance companies are now adding clauses to their contracts saying that they are not responsible for natural disasters. The list of insurance exclusions seems to continue to grow. It makes you wonder what is the benefit of paying large insurance premiums if the company won’t be there for you when your house is destroyed. Whenever there is a serious event that causes a lot of damage, the lawyers of the insurance companies get together to figure out how to avoid writing cheques.
This happened to me last month. A property that I own in California was deemed “uninsurable” because it’s a duplex. For ten years, there were no problems. I sold my house right away because I’m concerned that the housing market will drop if people can’t get insurance in that geographical area.
Suing the People That Started the Fire
Someone could certainly sue the couple that started the wildfire with the smoke machine. But with the millions of victims, it’s unlikely that they have enough assets to make it worthwhile. If they have a million dollars in assets, and there are a million victims, each victim would get less than one dollar once the legal fees are accounted for.
If you were the first mover on the lawsuit, perhaps you could receive some compensation. It would be mandatory to file the lawsuit in the court where the couple lives and serve it right away. You would be filing a lawsuit against the responsible party for negligence. You would have to prove that their actions lead to harm to your health. For example, the wildfire started because they set off a smoke machine. The fire caused smoke, which traveled to your city and led to your health problems.
Is Climate Change At Fault For The Wildfires?
There should be no doubt that the climate is changing. This year there has been record-beating heat. For the last few years, there has been less rain in British Columbia and Washington State. I am extremely concerned about the future of our beautiful part of the world. With less rain and higher heat, it’s likely we can plan for smoky summers going forward.
If you have the means to afford a wildfire-related lawsuit, and you can find someone with assets to sue, perhaps a fatter bank account will make up for your ruined summers by the lake.
Alistair Vigier is the CEO of Clearway Law, a company that connects people who need a lawyer or paralegal with a law firm.