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Attorneys "On Call" for WA Wildfire Victims

PHOTO: The Colockum Tarps fire has burned 70,000 acres near Wenatchee. This aerial photo was taken on Wednesday by WA Interagency Fire Mgmt. Team 4.
PHOTO: The Colockum Tarps fire has burned 70,000 acres near Wenatchee. This aerial photo was taken on Wednesday by WA Interagency Fire Mgmt. Team 4.
August 2, 2013

ELLENSBURG, Wash. – Long after Washington's summer wildfires are extinguished, people who've had property destroyed or damaged may have a different challenge – dealing with their insurance company.

If they need help, they'll be able to get free legal advice from members of the Washington State Association for Justice.

Attorney Jon Ferguson in Ellensburg says these kinds of insurance claims are different than auto accidents or other third-party claims. He explains they're not necessarily contentious, just confusing.

"Those are in some ways, more difficult than claiming against somebody else, because they're limited by the terms of the contract, the insurance policy itself,” he says. “And those policies can be very, very confusing – exclusions, and the definitions. Last year, I had some trouble understanding some of the provisions."

Last year during the massive Taylor Bridge fire in Kittitas County, Ferguson was one of about 50 attorneys statewide who volunteered to help fire victims with their insurance claims and questions about cleanup issues.

You can find these volunteer attorneys online at WashingtonJustice.org.

Ferguson says it helps to have a copy of the insurance policy and a list of what's been lost or damaged when he sits down with homeowners. And he advises people not to overlook damage that might not be so obvious.

"Even if the fire hasn't burned any of their structures,” he explains. “If it's been on their land, they're going to want to be very careful and find out just exactly where it's been and what kind of damage it might have done to fences, underground piping, wells, wiring, timber. So, there are lots of areas of damage that they should be alert to."

From his home, Ferguson adds he can see and smell the smoke from the Colockum Tarps fire.

He says homeowners who are concerned that they might have to evacuate should spend some time videotaping or photographing their property. And when they return, he cautions them not to quickly accept the first settlement an insurance company might offer.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA