Was Your Business Damaged by the Northern California Wildfires? —Here’s a Quick Explanation of Your Legal Rights

If your business is one of the thousands that suffered damage from the Northern California wildfires that broke out on October 8, then you certainly understand the devastating losses that the Northern California business community is facing.

Now, as you return to your business, and begin the task of repairing and rebuilding, you should be aware of your legal rights as a business suffering from damages. These rights include tax waivers, the right to the advice of legal counsel regarding your insurance filings, and the right to legal counsel regarding potential litigation about the cause of the flames.

Your Legal Right to Tax Resources

If your business is in the alcohol or wine industry and was located inside of an area that was declared a disaster area, then you can file for an extension to your federal excise taxes. If your business is subject to this disaster declaration zone, then you can contact the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”) and apply for an extension for your excise tax filing, which will also waive any penalties and fees for late filing.

You may also be able to file a claim for a refund or credit of your Federal excise taxes paid on your alcohol products that were destroyed, condemned or damaged so much that they are unmarketable. This claim can be filed by wineries, as well as wholesalers, warehouses, importers and retailers. The claim must be submitted within 6 months of the damage.

Your Legal Rights with Insurance Coverage

You should also be aware of the actions that you can take now to ensure that you protect your rights to receive the full business damage recovery to which you are entitled. You have the right to retain an attorney with expertise in business insurance claims to counsel you through the process of filing a claim with your insurer, submitting your Proof of Loss, and disputing potential attempts by your insurer to deny your claims for coverage.

Your business insurance policy most likely has very strict “reporting requirements,” which outline what you are required to document and submit to your insurer in support of your claim for damages. If you fail to meet these reporting requirements, including all the related deadlines, it could constitute your forfeiture of coverage and your insurance company could deny your claim.

Our team of nationwide insurance attorneys is here to share their industry expertise with you and your business, so that you avoid signing away your rights to insurance coverage, or being misled by confusing insurance policy clauses. And most importantly, insurance counsel will ensure that you do everything possible to receive the maximum compensation that your business is owed for its losses.

Your Legal Rights with Potential Litigation

According to recent reports, the fire may have been sparked by downed power lines that are owned and maintained by the California utility giant Pacific Gas and Electric (“PG&E”). Reports indicate that PG&E’s power equipment failures led to the wildfires, which is raising questions about how well the utility maintained its equipment. By law, PG&E is required to maintain its equipment by doing routine maintenance, such as cutting back trees and limbs from power lines to reduce the risk of fire.

If PG&E negligently failed to maintain its power line equipment and infrastructure, it could be found liable for the fire—and potentially the damages you and your business incurred as a result.

And it wouldn’t be the first time: PG&E and other California utilities have a history of being found responsible for wildfires caused by their failure to adequately maintain their power lines. In April of this year, PG&E was fined over $8 million for failing to maintain a power line that led to the September 2015 fire in Amador County that destroyed 549 homes, burned more than 70,000 acres, and killed two people. In all, PG&E is currently facing more than 1,000 lawsuits and claims related to fire negligence.

If your business has been damaged by the recent fires, do not forfeit your right to potential legal claims against PG&E or any other determined cause of the flames. If a court determines that a utility is liable for the California fire, your business can recover damages related to your property damage, personal injury and loss of business income.

To preserve your rights to potential litigation, consult an attorney experienced in fire-related litigation and claims. Our nationwide team of attorneys has the expertise to protect the rights of business against this type of negligence, as well as against insurance companies trying to manipulate policy holders’ claims for recovery. Ultimately, we are here as your resource to protect your rights, and ensure that you receive the maximum compensation that is owed to your business.


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