As is typical after a wildfire, insurers are requiring survivors to submit detailed “personal property inventories” listing the property they lost in the Maui Wildfire before paying Lahaina homeowners the limits of their personal property coverage. Preparing the inventories can take hours or even days.  Not surprisingly, many survivors find it traumatic to list all the items lost in the fire. Some find it impossible.

Maui Attorney Lance D. Collins has written Hawai`i Insurance Commissioner Gordon Ito call to provide relief to Maui residents. He is asking that Ito call upon property insurance companies to pay out 100% of coverage limits for loss of contents or personal property without requiring survivors to submit an itemized list or other proof of what they lost. According to Lance D. Collins, such paperwork “Is a burden the people of Lahaina should not be required to bear while the community continues to attempt to recover.” Collins notes that insurance commissioners in other jurisdictions have taken similar actions in the wake of wildfires, and the Hawwai`i commissioner should do so as well.

Lance D. Collins is a Maui lawyer who, along with Honolulu lawyer Harrison Kiehm, leads the Malama Law Group.  The Malama Law Group represents property owners and others who lost property in the Maui Wildfire.

In times like these, survivors are grappling with the aftermath, and your compassion can make a difference in their lives. Often, finding clear guidance on how to assist can be frustrating, leading to moments of discouragement. Your willingness to offer concrete advice on navigating resources and offering a helping hand can significantly ease the burden they’re facing. Examples of frustrating tasks include the long lines for assistance from government agencies or waiting for important phone calls from their insurance carrier or the County. You could assist by standing in line for them or waiting by the phone with them.  The companionship of a friend may help pass the time and reduce their stress.

Extending a Caring Presence:

Amidst the struggles faced by those who’ve endured the fires, your empathetic presence holds immense value. While you may not fully comprehend their journey, your genuine desire to listen and understand can provide them with solace. Encouraging survivors to openly share their experiences with professionals or friends can foster healing and growth.

In the Long Run:

The path to recovery is an extended one, filled with moments of profound difficulty. During occasions like holidays, anniversaries, and family events, the loss becomes even more poignant. Your heartfelt gestures, like reaching out and ensuring they feel seen, can be a lifeline. Some examples of events that have triggered our past clients  include the following:

  • Survivors often cannot light candles on birthday cakes because the smell of smoke takes them back to their traumatic evacuation. 
  • Holiday events may take them by surprise. A former client became very upset on Halloween.  Prior to the 2018 fire in Paradise, she loved Halloween and she stored boxes of decorations in her garage.  She lost all her decorations in the fire.  And she knew could never accrue the same type of decorations.  The holiday reminded her of joyful events that she felt she would never again experience. 
  • August 8  will always be challenging for the survivors.  Help your friends prepare for the heavy feelings that will come with that date.

As occasions arise, remind your friends of your unwavering love and support. Invite them to share how they’re feeling about the occasions and how the fire events may have affected those feelings.  As appropriate, you may suggest to them professional assistance and offer to find them some recommendations.   Recognize that their journey to healing and your support have only just begun.

Nani ka ʻōiwi o ka lāʻau i ka luaiele ʻia e ka makani.

There are things that Maui wildfire survivors can do right now to help make the recovery process easier. Once you and your loved ones are out of imminent danger, you should immediately contact your insurance company, make a plan for housing, track all expenses and insurance interactions, and prepare an inventory of your losses. 

  • Contact your insurance. If you have insurance, call your broker, and ask to get a copy of your policy and your declarations page. These documents will summarize your property and coverage limits. If you have internet access, it may be helpful to request these documents be sent by e-mail. In the meantime, ask your broker how much coverage you have to rebuild your home, replace the contents, and pay for Additional Living Expenses (“ALE”). 
  • Make a housing plan. Additional Living Expenses (ALE) coverage is used to pay for housing after you lose your home. ALE typically lasts for 24 months, or until the coverage runs out, whichever comes first. It’s important to manage this money carefully, because once your coverage runs out, that’s it. Sometimes a survivor is so happy to find a nice replacement home that they overlook the cost of rent and run through the ALE within 14 months and before their new home is rebuilt. Make sure to plan ahead so this doesn’t happen to you. 
  • Track all your expenses. When you lose your home, you spend money on things you wouldn’t need if you still had your house. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to keep track of everything. Simply throw your receipts in a shoebox — receipts for eating out, extra mileage and gas costs, etc. Even if your insurance won’t cover the costs, the utility company might. Better yet, use a debit or credit card to make purchases if you can. Receipts can fade with time, but a digital record will last. Remember – every receipt you save could put money back in your pocket! 
  • Document every insurance interaction. Plan to spend a lot of time on the phone with your insurance company. It is essential that you document everything including the date, time, and person you spoke with. Make sure to note what the adjuster tells you and request that they follow up your conversations with an email. Additionally, whenever you speak with your adjuster, send an email confirming the details of your conversation, especially when discussing your coverage, exclusions, limits, and policy benefits. Emails are your best protection as they go straight into the adjuster’s “claims diary.” I 
  • Prepare an inventory. Preparing a Personal Property Inventory (PPI) can be a daunting task, especially as you navigate your loss and the painful feelings that arise. However, many of our clients report feeling better after they complete the inventory. Enlist the help of a supportive friend or relative and try breaking the list down into smaller chunks – take it one room at a time. If that’s too much, start with something even smaller, like a closet, cupboard, or shed. Making a list of everything you lost in the fire while your memory is fresh will save you time and frustration later. The list should include big items like TVs, furniture, and artwork, as well as small ordinary things like kitchen utensils, toiletries, linens, and other housewares. You can write things down by hand or use a form from the internet. A complete PPI can put more money in your pocket, whether from insurance or the utility company. It’s hard now, but you’ll thank yourself later. 

Looks as though Hawai’ian Electric Company is legally responsible for the Maui Wildfire.  After all, it:

  • Failed to de-energize power lines in areas with high winds and dry vegetation, even though it had a public power shutoff plan in place;
  • Failed to maintain its power lines and equipment, which were in poor condition and prone to failure; and
  • Failed to adequately warn residents of the fire danger.

The potential liability to survivors for causing the fire is in the billions of dollars. In addition to the lawsuits, HECO is also facing scrutiny from regulators and investors. The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission has opened an investigation into the fire, and the company’s stock price has fallen sharply.

These factors suggest it is more likely than not that HECO will file for bankruptcy protection.

If HECO does file for bankruptcy, it doesn’t mean that HECO will get off scot-free.  Rather, it means that survivors’ claims against it will be heard in bankruptcy court, rather than a regular trial court.

PG&E file bankruptcy in California after causing a string of wildfires.  More than 60,000 claims were made against it in bankruptcy.  Thus far, survivors have been paid 60 cents on the dollar.

See our Maui Fires page for more information.

In June 2023, DuPont, Chemours, Corteva and 3M Company put up more than $13 billion to settle AFFF actions (Aqueous Film Forming Foams.) These settlements pertain only to 600 Public Water Systems. The settlements are subject to approval by Judge Richard M. Gergel, who was assigned in December 2018 to oversee the ongoing MDL proceedings in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina. These agreements do not release any claims made by firefighters who have suffered serious health effects arising from PFAS exposure.

Firefighters are at a higher risk of PFAS-related diseases because they are exposed to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) associated with their gear. The source of the PFAS may be from their gear’s construction materials or manufacturing process, deterioration of the gear during service, and/or while on duty. Studies have reported the presence of high levels of PFAS in firefighters’ blood. It has been proposed that the PFAS source is from the fire scene (AFFF, buildings contents, etc.), and/or from the gear itself. 

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), scientific studies have shown that exposure to some PFAS in the environment may be linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals.

PFAS related health concerns

Research involving humans suggests that high levels of certain PFAS may lead to the following:

  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • Decreased vaccine response in children
  • Changes in liver enzymes
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women.

Studies of laboratory animals given large amounts of PFAS indicate that some PFAS may affect growth and development. In addition, these animal studies indicate PFAS may affect reproduction, thyroid function, the immune system, and injure the liver. See PFAS Fact sheet here.

Civil or military firefighters diagnosed with cancer after exposure to PFAS in AFFF firefighting foam or gear may be eligible for money damages. Thousands of firefighters have already filed lawsuits.

Who may qualify for the PFAS firefighters’ lawsuit?

  • Anyone exposed to or used firefighting foam on the job or training; and,
  • Diagnosed with Kidney Cancer, Pancreatic Cancer, Testicular Cancer, Prostate Cancer, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Bladder Cancer, Thyroid Cancer, or Liver Cancer

It depends. A New Jersey School district paid $9.1 million to parents of bullied student, Mallory Grossman who died by suicide in 2017. See news report here.

But most states do not allow recovery in cases of death by suicide.  They follow the archaic “suicide rule” that considers death by suicide a voluntary act that breaks the chain of causation.  Such a rule would prevent a family from holding a school district accountable for failing to protect a student. 

The New Jersey settlement and other cases demonstrate a trend to move away from that rule and toward the more progressive California analysis. In 1960 California court established that a wrongdoer may be liable for intentional misconduct resulting in suicide. See, Tate v. Canonica at 901-915.

More recently, in a bullying case, a judge in Riverside refused to let a school district off the hook.  The Judge stated that a jury should decide: (1) whether the school district’s failure to train staff to prevent bullying may have caused the student’s mental condition that led to the uncontrollable suicide attempt; or (2) whether the link between the District’ s failure to train staff to prevent students from leaving school and student’ s mental condition led to student’s act of suicide.  Morrison v. Alvord Unified School Dist. (Cal.Super. No. RIC1705829.)

California case law recognizes that a wrongdoer should be accountable for actions that cause a mental condition that leads to an uncontrollable impulsive act.

Q: My father was killed in an accident that was not his fault.  As a result, I ended up with an inheritance.  Will the inheritance count against me if I sue the wrongdoer who caused my father’s death?

A: No.  At least not in a case in California.  It’s not what you received as a result of your father’s death that counts.  Rather, in a wrongful death case, the “measure of damages” is what the heirs “were receiving at the time of the death of the deceased” and what such heirs “would have received had decedent lived.” Johnson v. Western Air Exp. Corp. (1941) 45 Cal.App.2d 614, 622.  

In fact, what a plaintiff inherited as a result of a wrongful death of a family member is not supposed to even be allowed into evidence.  That’s because the financial benefits an heir may have received as a result of the death are not relevant to their damages.  Further, a wrongdoer may not escape responsibility for his negligent acts by pointing to the plaintiff’s receipt of funds that the wrongdoer didn’t provide. Any benefit that a plaintiff received as a result of a wrongful death is not to be considered in assessing damages in a wrongful death action, either as an item of deduction or a ground for awarding only nominal damages, and so the jury  should not even be told of an inheritance.

This principle was first set forth in a case called McLaughlin v. United Railroads. In that case, the heirs of Mrs. McLaughlin brought an action against a Railroad for the wrongful death of their mother.  The family had inherited from their mother assets which generated rental income: “a return in no wise dependent upon the skill, ability, or exertions of the deceased.” The Railroad argued to admit evidence that the children had “by the death of the mother come into the ownership of all of her property” to show that the compensation they were entitled to from the Railroad should be reduced to prevent a double recovery.  In rejecting the Railroad’s argument the Court stated:

This rule of evidence has its foundation in the refusal of the court to allow the defendant to benefit by his own wrong, to lessen his responsibility in damages for the injury which he has inflicted, by a showing that, quite fortuitously, through no contribution of defendant’s own, the plaintiffs have received a certain pecuniary benefit.

McLaughlin, supra, 169 Cal. at 498 (emphasis added).

                Today, the rule in Calfiornia remains: income or property that transferred to the victim’s heirs as a result of the wrongful death should not be admitted as evidence at trial.

On October 31, 2022, the Fire Victim’s Trust announced an additional sale of 35 million shares in PG&E stock at $15.25 per share to provide compensation for victims of the 2015 Butte, 2017 North Bay, and 2018 Camp Fire. This news comes shortly after the Fire Victim’s Trust sold 35 million shares at $13.65 per share in early October.

The Fire Victims Trust, which reviews and values victims’ claims, was established in July 2020 after PG&E went through Chapter 11 bankruptcy. For the fire victims, the bankruptcy had the unfortunate effect of delaying claims, though the delay could have been much longer without the establishment of the Fire Victims Trust. The Trust was set up to ensure the fire victims were paid the largest amount of their damages possible.

To fund payments to the fire victims, the Trust continues to sell portions of the approximately 480 million shares of PG&E stock that were deposited with the Trust as part of the bankruptcy. To date, the Trust has cashed out about 170 million shares. The Trust Agreement does not allow the Trust to issue shares to claimants. It must pay all awards in cash. Therefore, the Trust must eventually sell all the stock it is holding.

As of October 28th, 2022, the Trust has issued determination notices (a statement of the amount to be paid) to 86% of the claimants. The Trust hopes to have issued determination notices to 95% or more of the claimants by the end of the year. After a claimant accepts the determination notice, the Trust pays 45% of the amount of the determination as an initial pro rata payment. To date the Trust has paid out about $5.36 billion to fire victims.

Many fire victims who have already received their initial pro rata payment have asked about when they can expect to receive further pro rata payments. Unfortunately, the Trust has not yet announced when it will make additional payments to the victims following the initial pro rata payment. However, as the Trust issues determination notices to more and more claimants, the Trust should have more clarity as to the total amount to be paid on the victims’ claims. Additionally, as it sells more stock, it will also have a better idea of how much money will be available to pay those claims. As a result, we anticipate that the Trust should be in a position to make further payments to the victims in early 2023. We cannot guarantee that the Trust will make additional payments then, but we believe they should be able to. We will inform all of our clients once it becomes clear when an additional payment will occur.


After a “meticulous and thorough investigation,” Cal Fire concludes that the Dixie Fire was caused by a tree contacting PG&E’s electrical lines.

No surprise, given that PG&E all but admitted as much last July.

We can expect Cal Fire to now join the lawsuit we’ve filed on behalf of our Dixie clients, seeking to recover from PG&E its costs of fire suppression.

One of the first post-fire issues landowners face is property cleanup. Debris can include homes, vehicles, structures, personal property, chemicals, and toxins.

Debris cleanup also includes burnt trees. How and when to remove damaged trees is one of the most complicated situations an owner will have to deal with post-fire.

How and when to remove and clean up the trees

Burnt trees that are still standing are weakened by the fire and at risk of falling down at any time. They are therefore a hazard to anyone on the property. Therefore, to safely work on cleaning up the other debris on the property, the dangerous trees, often called “hazard trees,” must first come down.

Before felling the trees, owners should document the damage .  Take wide angle photographs that show the tree, the tree’s location on the property, and the damage all in one shot.

Factors to consider in deciding to take down a tree:

Is the tree a hazard to the public?

If the tree poses a threat to a public right of way or property like a road, ultimately the county can force you to remove the tree or allow them to enter your property so that the county can remove it.

Will the tree survive?

Many trees look completely burned, but will recover. Nobody wants to cut down trees that will end up surviving. An arborist can provide an opinion. In general, however, oaks are hardy while pine trees can withstand very little fire damage.

Does the tree pose a risk to your own property?

Keep in mind that there may be large equipment being used on the property during cleanup and rebuilding. Many operators won’t work on properties with trees in danger of falling nearby.

A still-standing tree may appear stable, but with increased winds, rain, and snowfall approaching it may actually pose a risk to someone on your property.

There can be root damage from the fire that hides the damage and the risk of the tree falling.  Again, an arborist can help.

What happens to the wood when the tree is felled?

Will the tree be cut in long enough sections to be worth milling, or “lopped”?

Will the contractor haul away the tree or leave it on your property?

If they leave trees on your property, will they stack and organize them?

If PG&E or the County cut down your trees, what happens?

What kind of damages can PG&E be made to pay for?

The laws in California provide unique avenues for recovery that don’t exist in other states.  It’s important to hire an experienced CA attorney to maximize the recovery in your case.  PG&E can be required to pay for the diminution in value that your property suffers as result of the loss of the tree, the value of the tree using the “trunk formula method” of valuing trees or, in some cases, the cost of replace the tree with one of like kind, size, and species.

We are experienced PG&E wildfire attorneys. If you have standing dead trees on your property after the Dixie Fire, call today and we’ll walk you through what you stand to recover for your trees. You will be connected to one of the attorneys in the firm that have worked closely with expert arborists, foresters, and engineers in past cases and know the complexities of these cases first hand. The laws governing tree damages are complex and date back to the 1800s, hiring an experienced attorney like those at Danko Meredith to guide your case to a resolution is the best thing you can do in your recovery.