Lost Home in Dixie Fire?

This video features Alicia D. O’Neill, a Personal Injury attorney based in Texas.

California Wildfire Lawyer Helps Victims Recover

Video Transcript:

Alicia O’Neill:

We're never settling for less than our clients need to rebuild their lives.

Rob Rosenthal:

If you've been a victim of the Dixie fire in California, how do you find out how you can get compensation for your losses? We're gonna find out the answer to that question and a whole lot more right now, because that's what we're going to Ask the Lawyer on this episode. Hi again, everybody. I'm Rob Rosenthal with AskTheLawyers.com. My guest is attorney Alicia O'Neill with the firm of Watts Guerra. I wanna tell you right off the top, if you wanna talk to Alicia or one of the members of her team about your experience in the Dixie fire, the best thing to do is just call the phone number that's on the screen and that'll get you started in the whole process. Alicia, thank you for making some time to answer our questions, I appreciate it.

Alicia O’Neill:

Absolutely, thank you.

Rob Rosenthal:

So sometimes wild fires happen, it's nobody's fault, act of nature or something like that, but you guys are here to tell us that this Dixie fire in particular could have been prevented? Tell me more about that.

Alicia O’Neill:

Absolutely, and I agree with you, there are times where wildfires happen because of lightning strikes or other sorts of accidental causes, but a lot of times in the state of California and really on the whole West Coast now, we find that wildfires are being started by electric companies, through their negligence and through their poor maintenance of their lines.

Rob Rosenthal:

And that's the case here with the Dixie fire, as far as we know so far?

Alicia O’Neill:

So far, PG&E, Pacific Gas and Electric, has made some statements saying that they may have caused the Dixie fire, and we believe that they may have indeed caused it.

Rob Rosenthal:

And the Dixie fire actually, it's two different fires that have kind of merged? Is that right?

Alicia O’Neill:

Yeah, the Dixie is two different fires that have merged, and that actually happens quite often with these fires where they'll start at two different points and then come together. PG&Es lines were at the start point of one of the fires.

Rob Rosenthal:

And so if it can be determined that the PG&E's negligence is what started these fires, people who are damaged in the fire, they have had losses, they can get recovery?

Alicia O’Neill:

That's right, and because of a law called inverse condemnation in California, if PG&E's line started these fires, then people can get compensation for their losses. It's very important that everyone pays attention to the fact that these fires did start around electric lines and watches all of the investigations that are going on and gets ahead of the idea that if the electric company started these fires, then they need to pay you for your losses so that you can rebuild your lives.

Rob Rosenthal:

And this is not... Unfortunately, not the first wild fire your law firm has been involved in, hopefully it's the last, but probably given the history, it won't be the last. Tell me a little bit about the experience that Watts Guerra has in these wildfires.

Alicia O’Neill:

Absolutely. Mikal Watts was in California in 2017, when the fires in North Bay began, he smelled the smoke, investigated what was going on and was able to find out pretty quickly that it was likely that Pacific Gas & Electric had started those fires talking about the Tubbs fire and Nuns and Atlas, those fires in 2017. We have several thousand clients in those fires as well as in the 2018 Camp fire, we have over 17,000 clients combined and those two fires, and we've been able to successfully litigate their claims and we're going through the settlement process with them now and getting them paid so that they can rebuild their lives in their communities.

Rob Rosenthal:

Unfortunately, the Dixie fire, as far as I know, is still burning and still growing, what are some general information on that, can you give me a little bit what we know about the size?

Alicia O’Neill:

Absolutely, the Dixie started on July to 13th of 2021, and it is a monster fire. It has been fueled by some of the National Forests, it's been burning for a very long time now, and it's burned almost a million acres. Luckily, thank God, 90% contained now. The firefighters have just done an amazing job of containing it as they do in all of these fires. Unfortunately one of them lost their lives fighting this fire. I think that there are so many things that happen when electric companies, when electric companies put profits and perhaps executive salaries and things like that over safety. 

Rob Rosenthal:

It comes to mind at least, I guess any attorney could come in there and say, Okay, we're now the handling wildfire claims. What makes Watts Guerra unique to handle these kind of claims?

Alicia O’Neill:

When we started to handle wildfire claims in 2017, we really hit the ground running. We moved our entire office and a huge team of our people to Santa Rosa, California, and then in 2018, we did the same in Chico, California, which is right near Paradise where the fire was. We immersed ourselves and all of the ways that we could prove of damages to make sure that our clients were being compensated the most they possibly could be for their losses, and that was a lot to learn. We hired on insurance adjusters or former insurance adjusters to help us understand how to value out the contents of everyone's home. We got involved up front in helping people doing that so that they weren't alone trying to rebuild everything they had inside their house. We developed templates and programs, and we dedicated employees to helping folks do that so that they could use those templates that they filled out with all of their content that they worked on with our staff, not only with their insurance company, but then we could use them against PG&E in the settlement to make sure they got fully compensated. We also spoke with a lot of people locally about what buildings were worth and structures were worth, so that we could have appraisals done and estimates done to make sure that even though Zillow may have said, your home was worth $600,000. If we all know you could have sold it at that time for $800,000, we wanna make sure we have that proof so that you get that extra $200,000 that are owed to you. We also really looked into the emotional distress damages, into the kind of damage that the smoke causes to people when they're exposed to it, into the kind of trauma that is caused to a human being when they flee a giant wall of fire for their life. There were so many different aspects that we just specialized in and honed in on to make sure that we were able to know absolutely everything about our clients' experiences and not leave a single penny on the table. To us, we came into this town, we're from... Some of us anyway, are from the Gulf Coast, so we're used to hurricanes and having our house maybe get three, four, five, six feet of water in it, and you go back and everything's still there. So you're able to rebuild what was there and think about where everything was, whereas when we went into these towns that had been decimated by these fires, it was more like a bomb had gone off, and our clients were standing there next to property where everything was incinerated, where it's almost impossible to even imagine what the structure looked like or what contents were inside their home, so it was a ton of work to make sure that we didn't miss a single thing.

Rob Rosenthal:

So you've got people there on the ground who are staying there until this process is complete. Is that correct?

Alicia O’Neill:

We absolutely do have people on the ground who will be staying nearby throughout this entire case in the Dixie fire, just like we promised in the North Bay fires, and just like we promised in the Camp fires, and our offices in both of those areas are still open. And we help clients every day, sometimes they just come in just to check on their claim, or maybe even just to say hi, but it's important to us that our attorneys and our staff are always there for our clients. 

Rob Rosenthal:

And let's talk about that a little bit. What can someone expect the process to be like, Alicia, if they do decide to retain the services of Watts Guerra to help them recover for their losses in the fire, is there somebody that basically is holding their hand, maybe figuratively and literally through the whole process?

Alicia O’Neill:

Absolutely, so when you sign up with Watts Guerra, we make sure that you always have good contact with our staff, with our internal staff and with your lawyers, so that if you have a legal question, it's being answered by the legal staff, and if you have a practical question where you need to build out your damages or maybe need some insurance advice, something like that, you're able to speak with the appropriate employee. Like I said, we have some former insurance adjusters on staff who can give you basic guidance and how to deal with your insurance claim. We also have a huge staff that's very experienced in building out damages, like personal property damages, real property damages, emotional distress damages, and of course, we have experts like our arborist who will be able to go through and value out any trees that you owned on your property.

Rob Rosenthal:

That's got to be very comforting for people at a time in their life when there's a very little comfort, everything is turned upside down for them, I imagine.

Alicia O’Neill:

You know, I asked my momma who did get six feet of water in her house in Hurricane Ike in Galveston, Texas, what the best thing we could do for the wild fire victims in 2017 when I was first moving out there to help them, and she said, Just do it all for 'em. You know, she said that she felt so paralyzed by having lost everything she ever owned that she just would have done anything to have had somebody staying there and just help her through it, help or make the list, help her figure out how to build up her damages, how to sue someone, how to sue a huge company, right? That we would normally think would be very difficult to get damages from, but what we found is that whether it be Pacific Gas and Electric or another power company that when Mikal Watts goes up against them, they pay our clients what they own them. 

Rob Rosenthal:

Do clients need to be prepared to pay any money out of pocket up front when they retain the services?

Alicia O’Neill:

So no client of Watts Guerra pays any money up front out of pocket. We are a plaintiff's law firm, which means we work on a contingency, that means we advance all costs, we pay for all the experts up front, and the only way we get paid is if the client gets paid by the company, so the only way we would get paid is if Pacific Gas and Electric were to pay a settlement in your case. We take all of the risks so that the client doesn't have to. We understand, and Mikal understands, with the incredible amount of resources that he has to back your claims that normal individuals can't afford to sue a company like Pacific Gas and Electric, they could bankrupt a normal person if they try to go against them by themselves, but we have the resources and the ability, the proven ability to go up against Pacific Gas and Electric and be successful.

Rob Rosenthal:

And Mikal likes to talk about the strength in numbers as far as the amount of people that sign on, that helps too?

Alicia O’Neill:

Absolutely, our firm routinely has the largest docket in the litigations that we enter, and that gives us a seat at the table and the ability to push our client's claims as hard and as fast as we can, and to make sure that we're never settling for less than our clients need to rebuild their lives.

Rob Rosenthal:

Lots of great information, I'm sure will hopefully help a lot of people Alicia, thank you for making some time to help us out today. 

Alicia O’Neill:

Absolutely, thank you. 

Rob Rosenthal:

That's gonna do it for this episode of Ask the Lawyer. My guest has been attorney Alicia O'Neill with the firm of Watts Guerra. Remember, if you'd like to talk to Alicia or one of her team members about your losses in the Dixie fire, just call the phone number on the screen and that will start the process right there. Thanks for watching, I'm Rob Rosenthal with Ask the Lawyers.

This is a paid advertisement funded by the law firm of Watts Guerra LLC. The purpose is to reach prospective clients with respect to the matters described. Doug Boxer of The Law Office of Douglas Boxer is licensed to practice law in California. Attorneys identified, other than Doug Boxer, are licensed to practice law in the State of Texas. Mikal Watts is Board Certified in Personal Injury Law. Unless otherwise indicated, the attorneys listed are not board certified. This does not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your potential legal matter and does not constitute an attorney-client privilege or relationship. The principal offices of Watts Guerra LLC are located in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. The principal office of the Law Office of Douglas Boxer is at 2561 California Park Drive, Suite 100, Chico, CA 95928. Doug Boxer, of The Law Office of Douglas Boxer, and Mikal Watts, of Watts Guerra LLC, are the attorneys responsible for the content of this advertisement. 

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