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Washington Attorneys Offer Help for Wildfire Victims

PHOTO: No one wants a repeat of the Mills Canyon fire or any other summer wildfire. But if blazes ignite, dozens of Washington State Association for Justice members say they're ready to help fire victims with legal advice, quickly and free of charge. Photo courtesy Washington Commission on Hispanic Affairs.
PHOTO: No one wants a repeat of the Mills Canyon fire or any other summer wildfire. But if blazes ignite, dozens of Washington State Association for Justice members say they're ready to help fire victims with legal advice, quickly and free of charge. Photo courtesy Washington Commission on Hispanic Affairs.
June 25, 2015

TACOMA, Wash. – When someone's home or barn is going up in flames, their first thought is probably not, "Where's an attorney?" But soon enough, they might find they need one.

This summer, more than 50 members of the Washington State Association for Justice (WSAJ) will be on call statewide to aid wildfire victims with insurance claims, repair contracts and any number of legal questions that can arise – at no cost.

Mike Fisher, a Tacoma attorney and WSAJ board member, says many WSAJ members have previously pitched in to help in the aftermath of several emergencies, including the Taylor Bridge fire and Oso mudslide.

"One thing we've learned in all of these disasters is speed is important," says Fisher. "Getting assistance to victims of these disasters very quickly is important. Not just food, water and shelter, but also legal advice and assistance."

According to Fisher, attorneys in the group have compiled a manual of legal resources to use in emergency or disaster situations, and will have written information for clients with hints like, "even if your home burns down, you still have to keep up the mortgage payments."

Fisher adds that now is the time for anyone living in a fire-prone area to review their insurance policies with their agent or broker, and find out if their coverage is sufficient.

Fisher says WSAJ attorneys have seen "a lot" in their combined experience. There's been damage caused by firefighting crews dropping flame retardant from the sky, bogus repair contractors offering deals too good to be true, and scammers who show up quickly and profess to be from insurance companies – when they are really identity thieves.

"That's particularly dangerous because if you've just had your house burn down and you don't have a place to live, you don't have time to do things like monitor your credit card statement and check your email to see if you've opened a new credit account," says Fisher. "If you've given one of these folks all of your information like your name, Social Security number, that sort of thing – that can be a real problem."

In short, he says it's helpful to be able to tell people you "need to double-check with an attorney" – and then do so. WSAJ lawyers are typically assigned according to the area of the state in which a claim originates.

A list of participating attorneys is on the Washington State Association for Justice website.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA