Determining Liability in an Accidental Wildfire
Wildfires take a devastating toll on both people and property. California is in the midst of one of its most devastating wildfire seasons, with over 7,400 confirmed incidents and over 4,200 structures damaged or destroyed. According to CAL FIRE, nearly 2 million acres have burned this fire season alone and seven lives have been lost.
What may surprise people is that humans start the vast majority of wildfires. The El Dorado Fire started on September 5 and has burned over 17,598 acres, injuring 10 people. The fire has now been 54% contained. Firefighters released a statement shortly after the inferno began stating that they had already determined the cause: human recklessness. According to the CAL FIRE News Release, the fire was caused by a “smoke generating pyrotechnic device, used during a gender reveal party.”
Hot weather conditions, winds, and dry vegetation helped the fire spread quickly from the scenic El Dorado Ranch Park to the Yucaipa Ridge, threatening numerous residences and commercial structures. While the fire was not started intentionally, those responsible can still be held “financially and criminally responsible,” as noted in the release.
Criminal Charges Related to Starting a Wildfire
Depending on the state, a person may be held criminally responsible for starting a fire, even if it was done unintentionally. For instance, in California under Penal Code Section 452, a person may be charged with arson if they recklessly set a fire or cause a structure, forest land, or property to be burned. If the fire causes great bodily injury, they can be charged with a felony and imprisoned up to six years.
Under Florida law, a person can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor for recklessly burning or setting fire to wildlands that they do not own or are in lawful possession. While most people avoid jail time for unintentionally starting a fire, they may be on the hook for damages and the cost to fight the fire.
In 2018, another extravagant gender reveal gone wrong caused millions in damage and burned nearly 47,000 acres. CNN notes that the father-to-be who packed the explosives and shot the target to ignite it received five years’ probation and was required to pay over $8 million in restitution.
In addition to state charges, a person who accidentally starts a fire may also face federal charges if they exercise obscene recklessness. However, most people will not face federal charges for accidentally starting a fire, as state and local prosecutors will often aggressively pursue financial recovery instead. According to reporting by CBS 2 KUTV, the US Attorney’s Office has been successful in recovering significant portions of taxpayer money expended on fighting these fires.
Civil Liability For Negligence or Recklessness
Even in a case where a fire was set purely by accident, a person can face not only criminal charges but also civil liability for personal injury and property damage. Depending on the jurisdiction, a person who recklessly or negligently sets a fire or causes a property to burn can be held responsible in civil court and be required to pay for all damages.
A burn victim may be able to pursue a claim for damages, including their medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering related to the incident. State laws vary regarding personal injury lawsuits and the amount of damages that can be pursued by an individual. Homeowners faced with property damage from an accidental blaze may also seek reimbursement for their losses.
Unfortunately, decadent birthday parties, gender reveals, weddings, and other festivities are becoming the norm. Fireworks, “contained” explosives, and other elaborate pyrotechnics are used with little regard for what will happen if something goes wrong. Not only do these things pose a risk to party attendees but also surrounding property, people, and wildlife.
Contact Mase Mebane for More!
If you are injured because of someone else’s recklessness or negligence, you might be entitled to compensation. At Mase Mebane, we have recovered millions on behalf of injury victims in Miami and throughout South Florida. As seasoned trial attorneys and skilled negotiators, we have the experience you need to get the justice you deserve. Contact Mase Mebane for a free consultation at (844) 627-3529 or fill out our online contact form.