California Jury Orders Two Construction Companies To Pay $36.5M For Wildfire Damage

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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The 2002 wildfire in Santa Clarita, California burned approximately 18,000 acres of land and spread to the Angeles National Forest, severely endangering a species of frog protected in that environment. California authorities blamed two construction companies for starting what has become known as the Copper Fire and a California jury recently ordered those companies to pay $36.5 million in damages.

California Copper Fire

California authorities blamed the Copper Fire on two construction companies, Merco Construction Engineers, Inc. and its subcontractor, CB&I Constructors, Inc. They allege that the construction companies negligently failed to water down a worksite where they were building steel water tanks for a housing development in Santa Clarita and that a spark from machinery ignited nearby dry brush. The fire spread quickly due to the extremely dry conditions throughout California that year and ended up burning 18,000 acres of land and severely endangered a threatened species of frog in the Angeles National Forest.

A California jury recently found both companies liable for the fire and ordered them to pay $36.5 million in damages. It is thought to be the largest cost recovery award in a federal firefighting case. Whether or not the companies actually pay the amount remains to be seen as both have since gone out of business.

Cost recovery

States often seek to recoup firefighting expenses when others are found to be responsible for the damage. Although fire insurance paid for some of those expenses, it is estimated that the state of California paid over a half a billion dollars to fight the many fires which plagued the state in the past few years. Other California companies have also been held responsible for fires in the past that have led to billions of dollars of homeowner and environmental damages.

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