Kevin DeTienne has been awarded $1.9 million for damages he incurred when his home and property were burned during last year’s Corral fire.
But his attorney notes that DeTienne probably will only see a fraction of that amount, since more than 30 other property owners also filed to collect damages from Robert Fitte and his insurance companies. Under a recent federal court ruling, Fitte’s $1 million commercial liability policy can be used to cover some of the compensation costs, and his $300,000 homeowner’s policy also can be used.
DeTienne’s attorney, Thomas Budewitz, noted that one other nearby resident already has been awarded a $500,000 judgment, so now there’s $2.4 million in judgments but only $1.3 million available in compensation.
The $300,000 from one insurance company has been deposited with the court, but they’re still waiting for the other $1 million. The money will be dispersed through mediation.
“Once they bring in all the other claims, I have no idea how much my client will recover,” Budewitz said. “Everybody who has been damaged will be able to make a claim against that $1.3 million, but obviously it will not be enough to pay for all of the losses.”
Curt Drake, an attorney representing Fitte, said his client feels terrible about the losses people suffered and is continuing to try to work with his neighbors to come to some sort of resolution.
“These people were his neighbors, and he wants to do right by them,” Drake said. “We’re still hopeful that we can help and Mr. Fitte’s insurers can help by providing a forum through mediation to find a way they can all reach agreements among themselves as to how the $1.3 million will be split.”
Fitte had an activated permit on the June 23, 2012, weekend to burn piles of dead branches and tree limbs killed by the mountain pine beetle epidemic and thought he had fully extinguished the fire. However, when the wind picked up on June 25, 2012, the embers sparked into a wildfire that burned across about 1,800 acres in the Scratchgravel Hills north of Helena and consumed four homes.
Fitte was not charged with any criminal activity in the matter.
Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Eve @IR_EveByron.