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Arson Under the Christmas Tree
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What is Malicious and Willful Arson

You’ve seen it in many big screen pictures where the owner sets the house on fire for purposes of claiming the insurance money from the fair market value of the home following a personal tragedy or derailment in their life. You’ve also seen it in the news where a group of kids playing with matches or fireworks intentionally or even accidentally catches a home, field, or business on fire resulting in thousands, if not millions of dollars in damages. 

The “Camp Fire” in Butte County, CA in 2018 is an example of negligence, but not on the part of an individual, rather an organization where Pacific Gas and Electric was found to be responsible resulting in hefty fines that exceeded $13 billion in claims and damages.

Long story short, here are the elements of the charge of Arson found in Penal Code 451 PC:

  • Was a fire started?: First and foremost, in order for a person to be charged with Arson (willful or otherwise) a fire has to have been started on a property or in a building. The fire has to have been started with matches, a lighter or explosive device indicating that it was not accidental. If a person indirectly starts a fire in a neighboring building or home or property without intent for it to spread, may still be charged.
  • Intent: In order to be charged with Arson, a person must have intent to start a fire by deliberately igniting a flame or flammable materials with matches, a lighter, or explosive materials. A person may be charged with Arson for recklessly starting a fire by throwing hot coals or burning wood into a dry area ignoring local fire ordinances or burning where burning may be prohibited. 
  • Property damage: In order for a person to be charged and/or convicted of Arson, there must be clear property damage. This may be to a home, any structure, or land. Burning your own personal property such as a home, business, land or vehicle may also be charged as Arson based upon the value.

State laws were expanded to include the malicious burning of almost any building and the destruction of buildings by their owners when the purpose is to defraud an insurance company. A new model arson law which has been suggested for State adoption includes provisions concerning aggravated arson and reckless burning or bombing and provides penalties for those fire-setters whose offenses cause death or injury. Under the terms of most insurance contracts, the crime of arson is not a basis for denying liability. Furthermore, the insurer is responsible for proving misrepresentation or fraud on the part of the insured. Insurance investigators consider the following indicators, among others, when trying to develop evidence of fraud: unemployment of the insured; delinquency in mortgage payments; adverse consumer credit information; property foreclosure proceedings underway; tax liens on the property; property listed for sale; marital difficulties or divorce action pending; fire during periods of renovation; recent increase of insurance; gross misrepresentation of the value of lost property; and desire to relocate from a transitional neighborhood.

Regardless of the classification of the offense, it is important that you seek the assistance of competent legal counsel to help you best understand your legal defense while identifying an outcome that best minimizes your risk. We here at the H Law Group patiently await your call.

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