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From Our Case Files: San Diego County Wildfires (2007)

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An ongoing series exploring cases involving Xpera Group’s team of experts.

Subject: Property loss evaluations for hundreds of properties destroyed or severely damaged by three major fires in San Diego County

Client: Mitch Wagner, Attorney, San Diego Fire Lawyers

Expert: Ted Bumgardner

In the aftermath of yet another devastating wildfire season in California, we are reminded of the many landmark fire-related projects that our team has been involved with over the years. The tales of heartbreak and loss are never easy for anyone involved. Yet, we are heartened by the fact that we are able to lend a hand—and specialized expertise—in these matters to help the property owners begin the long journey to recovery.

To discuss one such project, we recently reached out to Mitch Wagner, a veteran attorney we had the honor of working with in the very early days of Xpera Group. In fact, our founder and president Ted Bumgardner, had only hung out his shingle two weeks prior to getting a call from Wagner that he and his partners with San Diego Fire Lawyers were in need of property loss evaluation experts. The attorneys were representing over 500 plaintiff groups who lost homes and property due to the devastating Witch Creek, Guejito Fires and Rice Canyon that tore through large swaths of San Diego County in October 2007 due to downed electrical power lines.

“We recognized right away that we needed an expert to provide reconstruction costs for homes that were destroyed or severely damaged in the fires for use in litigation,” said Wagner. “These were primarily individual custom homes, ranging from extraordinarily modest construction to some very, very expensive homes, so our task was extremely challenging. We needed to have well-documented figures to present as evidence and Xpera uniformly delivered and was indispensable in this process.”

Our young firm had our work cut out for us. Bumgardner and our cost estimating team dove right into a complex and challenging assignment that kept us busy for over two and a half years.

“Unlike the previous wildfires in San Diego in 2003, we were not dealing with subdivisions with uniform housing types that could be easily replicated,” said Bumgardner. “These were largely custom homes that had undergone years of modifications, many with outbuildings, barns and other amenities that had to be accounted for in our cost-to-repair/replace estimates. Oftentimes, the owners’ records were destroyed in the fire itself or building codes and requirements had changed since the original structures were built, which further complicated our calculations. Every story was different, and we had over 500 of them. This was a massive undertaking, to say the least.”

Based on their many years of experience in the industry, the Xpera team was able to develop a highly efficient and cost-effective system for tackling the assignment, utilizing surveys to streamline the complex process of conducting the evaluations and reconstruction cost estimates for hundreds of unique properties. In the end, it was this approach that made the difference in the successful resolution of the plaintiffs’ claims against the utility.

“I have practiced law for over 30 years and have dealt with experts in all walks of life providing expert witness and litigation service. Unfortunately, this cottage industry is routinely abused by experts who see it as a ‘gravy train’ and essentially hold attorneys hostage. Xpera absolutely did not do that. They were always conscious of working within a protocol that assured tremendous systemization and efficiency to keep the billing to a very manageable and reasonable level. I can’t emphasize enough how important that was when dealing with hundreds of people and properties. The whole system was implemented to be extraordinarily efficient. The quality of the work was outstanding and the support at mediation was terrific.”

As our state looks to rebuild once again from the devastating 2017 fires, we asked Wagner what advice he would offer to others looking for fire property loss evaluations and cost estimating services.

His answer: “Hire Xpera.” (Thank you for putting your trust in us, Mitch!)

Additional information about Xpera Group’s fire property loss evaluation services can be found here.

To learn more, contact Ron Whitehead at rwhitehead@xperagroup.com.

 


Topics: Property Loss, Cost Estimating, Testifying Expert, Cost of Repair, From Our Case Files, Construction Forensics, Ted Bumgardner

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