2017 has brought more than its share of floods, wildfires, earthquakes and other disasters. Although Sacramento was largely spared this year, many nearby communities were no so lucky.
During and immediately following a disaster, victims and communities focus on fulfilling urgent needs, like finding temporary housing, accessing medical care, and obtaining money to cover short-term expenses. However, once the immediate danger has passed, victims are faced with an entirely new and complicated set of issues. These include questions about repairing or rebuilding homes; obtaining government benefits; dealing with insurance companies; receiving FEMA assistance; dealing with employers and related issues; replacing of lost documents; preventing a variety of common types of fraud; and many other questions. The myriad of local, state and federal laws, agencies, and programs involved can be very confusing.
The 2017 Northern California Wildfires Helping Handbook (also available in Spanish), prepared by the law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP, provides information about many of the legal issues that disaster victims may face. It addresses many of the common questions and problems faced by those affected by natural disasters. Although this handbook was prepared in response to the recent wildfires in Northern California, much of the information would apply in any type of disaster.
All of this can be very overwhelming. Luckily, both the American Bar Association and the California State Bar Association provide hotlines offering free legal assistance for disaster survivors. Callers to the hotlines can get help with legal issues such as FEMA and other government benefits, home repair contracts, insurance claims, replacement of legal documents, consumer protection issues, mortgage-foreclosure problems, and landlord-tenant issues.