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Free Legal Advice for WA Wildfire Victims

Amidst this summer's devastating wildfires in Washington, a team of attorneys is offering legal assistance free of charge. Credit: U.S. Interior Department
Amidst this summer's devastating wildfires in Washington, a team of attorneys is offering legal assistance free of charge. Credit: U.S. Interior Department
August 26, 2015

ELLENSBURG, Wash. - As hundreds of acres continue to burn in Washington, a team of attorneys across the state is helping wildfire victims with their questions about insurance claims, repair contractors, finding public assistance and more.

It's a busy summer for members of the Washington State Association for Justice, as dozens volunteer their time to consult with anyone who's been affected by wildfires. Ellensburg attorney Jon Ferguson said insurance questions are most common. Companies can mean well in trying to settle claims quickly, he said, but this also can mean policyholders accepting less than what they're entitled to.

"When you've just lost everything and somebody's standing there ready to hand you a check, I know how hard that is," he said. "We can't stress strongly enough that the homeowners have to resist that urge - to wait if at all possible, to talk to somebody who's got your rights in mind and will work to help you."

Over the past few years, Ferguson said, he's helped wildfire victims apply for public assistance, negotiate with mortgage companies ready to foreclose on damaged property and defended people accused of fraud by their insurance company. He said the situations aren't always contentious, but having a third party familiar with consumer law can be helpful.

"Often it's important to just have an interpreter - somebody who gets between the person who's lost everything in this fire and whoever they're dealing with - because there'll be an awful lot of anger and frustration," he said.

The list of attorneys working free of charge on wildfire victim assistance is on the Washington State Association for Justice Facebook page. Ferguson added that an attorney doesn't have to be located in the same geographic area as the people who need the help to be an effective advocate.

Some insurance companies tell policyholders that getting legal advice will only slow the claims process, he said, but in his experience, the opposite has been true.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA