North Bay Fires Update: PG&E Back California Fire Liability Bill Critics Deem “Bailout”
August 13, 2018
Facing a potentially existential financial crisis over liabilities relating to the October 2017 North Bay Fires, California utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has thrown its full support behind a new state bill that would allow the privately-owned company to sell state-authorized bonds to raise funds with which to compensate fire victims. Under the proposal, rate payers would ultimately foot the bill for paying off the bonds.
Some critics have called such a solution tantamount to PG&E burning down a house only to then charge the homeowner for the cost of rebuilding.
Perhaps recognizing it faces an uphill legal battle in the more than 200 lawsuits filed against it over the October 2017 fires, PG&E has lobbied aggressively for changes to the law itself. The company recently has invested over $1.5 million lobbying state officials to that end, according to The Press Democrat.
While PG&E representatives such as Steven Malnight, senior vice president for strategy and policy, has heralded Assembly Bill 33 as “the right vehicle” for resolving fire-related claims, its opponents such as State Senator Bill Dodd, D-Napa, have labeled it as “incredibly flawed,” adding, “I think AB 33 at this point is a total bailout for the utility. I don’t think it’s fair to the ratepayers to have a PG&E bailout.”
In its efforts to change the laws over utility disaster liability, PG&E has sought to characterize the existing legal standards as flawed and outdated. As PG&E’s Malnight expressed to the Press Democrat editorial board, “The laws that were built for yesterday are just not going to be sufficient for the risks that we face today and tomorrow.”
Cal Fire, the state agency tasked with investigated the causes of the North Bay Fires, has identified PG&E equipment as sparking 16 different fires during the October 2017 disaster, though state officials have yet to release findings relating to the largest fires, including the so-called Tubbs Fire. In 11 of the 16 instances reported to date, Cal Fire cited evidence that PG&E had been in violation of state safety codes regulating the minimum distance to be maintained between vegetation and live power lines.
In total, the deadly blazes destroyed nearly 15,000 homes across Lake, Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma counties. Estimates have placed PG&E’s potential liability at over $10 billion.
If you or a loved one suffered personal injury or property damage as a result of the devastating October 2017 North Bay Fires, contact the experienced, local attorneys at AdamsFietz.com now for a free legal consultation with an actual attorney!
The Press Democrat
Sonoma County Fire Lawsuit News: California Lawmakers Race to Meet Deadline for North Bay Fire Legislation as PG&E Posts $1 Billion Loss
July 30, 2018
With the August 31 end of its two-year legislative session fast approaching, California state lawmakers are racing to complete legislation aimed at addressing liability issues stemming from the catastrophic North Bay Fires of October 2017. Meanwhile, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E)—the utility giant whose equipment has been identified as the cause of many of the North Bay Fires—announced a $1 billion loss stemming from the fires.
On Wednesday, July 25, 2018, California lawmakers met with other stakeholders in San Francisco to discuss details of a policy recently put forth by Governor Jerry Brown. Policymakers are struggling to balance competing interests from the privately-owned utility—which has complained that present rules holding the company liable for damage caused by its equipment even when there has been no finding of negligence are unfair and financially unsustainable—with those of property owners, insurance companies, and local municipalities, who historically have relied on reimbursement from utility companies to recover costs associated with such disasters.
As it announced on July 26 an additional $1 billion in losses associated with the October 2017 North Bay Fires, PG&E also commented that Gov. Brown’s proposal was a step in the right direction but still far from the comprehensive changes the investor-held company says are necessary to shield it from future liability for fires caused by its own equipment.
“The governor’s proposal as a standalone measure represents some progress on reforming strict liability, but it’s insufficient,” Geisha Williams, president and CEO of PG&E, said July 26 in a conference call with Wall Street analysts, per The Press Democrat. “It’s just one element of a more comprehensive set of solutions that are needed.”
Confronted with over 200 lawsuits and potentially over $10 billion in damages associated with the October 2017 North Bay Fires alone, PG&E faces a potentially existential financial threat from the damage caused by the devastating blazes. Fearing losses in court under current law, PG&E has engaged in an all-out effort to get California lawmakers to change the law itself.
With the August 31 legislative deadline fast approaching, time is running short for lawmakers intent on making changes that essentially will bail out PG&E for this and other disasters by modifying existing law to appease the financial needs of the privately-owned corporation.
Stay tuned to TheLawFirm.com for the latest legal developments relating to the October 2017 North Bay Fires, and if you have suffered loss of property, loss of life, or personal injury as a result of the catastrophic blazes, contact the experienced, local team of attorneys at AdamsFietz.com now for a free consultation!
The Press Democrat
North Bay Fires News: Pro PG&E Bill Sponsered By Lawmaker Whose Son Works for Utility
July 24, 2018
A California state assemblyman representing Hayward who introduced a pro-PG&E bill aimed at helping the utility giant recover disaster costs from customers has a son who works for the company, the San Francisco Chronicle reported July 21, 2018. Although both PG&E and the office of Democrat Bill Quirk have confirmed the family connection, both parties claim it has no relation to the introduced legislation.
AB33 would authorize PG&E to issue bonds in order to raise money to cover the over 200 lawsuits the company presently is facing over the devastating North Bay Fires of October 2017. CalFire, the state agency responsible for investigating the fires, has found PG&E equipment was responsible for sparking 16 of those fires that coincided with high temperatures and an unusually ferocious windstorm. It is estimated that PG&E could face upwards of $10 billion in potential liability for damage caused by the fires.
In response to inquiries about the family link between the assemblyman and the utility, a spokeswoman for PG&E and told the Chronicle, “We have 20,000 employees, and one of them is [AB33 sponsor Bill Quirk’s] son.”
Quirk’s office similarly sought to downplay the connection. “The member’s decision to introduce AB33 has nothing to do with his son working at PG&E,” the assemblyman’s Chief of Staff Tomasa Duenas told the Chronicle. “It has everything to do with fire victims and protecting ratepayers. If PG&E goes bankrupt, fire victims and rate payers get hurt. A bankruptcy court would likely re-prioritize company activities toward restructuring and settling debts, meaning fire victims’ claims will be in limbo.”
Consumer advocates have decried the lack of transparency regarding the connection.
“It’s always important for legislators to disclose any potential conflicts of interest up front, because when they don’t do that, it can have the appearance of bias. And I think it’s a mistake for Assemblyman Quirk not to let people know,” said Mark Toney, executive director of The Utility Reform Network, a consumer advocacy group, according to the Chronicle.
If you or a loved one has suffered loss as a result of the devastating North Bay Fires of October 2017, contact the experienced team of local attorneys at AdamsFietz.com now for a free consultation!
San Franciso Chronicle
North Bay Fires News: Former California Utility Commissioner Advocates for pro-PG&E Bill, Citing “New Normal” AF Analysis
July 24, 2018
Citing a “new normal” of California climate that will result in a yearlong fire season, former commissioner for the California Public Utilities Commission Mike Florio has thrown his hat in the ring as an advocate for AB33, a pro-PG&E bill aimed at helping the company deal with the financial fallout from the devastating North Bay Fires of October 2017.
Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle in a piece published July 21, 2018, Florio called California’s current policies related to utility liability for natural disasters “outmoded” for holding “utilities such as PG&E strictly liable for damages in which their equipment is a substantial cause, even if there is not finding of wrongdoing.”
The main basis for Florio’s support appears to be his concern for keeping PG&E out of bankruptcy, a move that might ultimately have some benefit to consumers but which would undoubtedly benefit privately-owned PG&E’s shareholders.
“If the state continues to hold utilities to this strict liability standard, it is likely that PG&E will be forced into bankruptcy,” Florio argued. “We’ve seen in the past when utilities are driven into bankruptcy by natural disasters, such as what happened to Entergy New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, it results in severe rate increases, raises the cost of procuring carbon-free electricity, and has ripple effects throughout the economy.”
Whether all of the outcomes described by Florio are directly attributable to the bankruptcy of Entergy New Orleans rather than the wider devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina is unclear, as is whether an entirely different form of disaster that happened over a decade ago in a vastly different region of the country should provide a model for how California should deal with its present wildfire crisis.
For example, the carbon-free energy market has been completely revolutionized in the nearly 13 years since Hurricane Katrina, so it is debatable how much of a lesson California should draw from New Orleans’ experience in that regard.
Additionally, Florio draws a false equivalency between the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina—which largely was due to the failure of levies weakened by the Category 5 storm, resulting in widespread flooding—and the North Bay Fires of October 2016, which were sparked by PG&E equipment.
While it is clear that massive changes are necessary in the face of the growing wildfire risk in California, propositions that seek to provide PG&E with a financial bailout while limiting its financial liability going forward should be viewed with a heavy dose of skepticism.
North Bay Fires News: Sacramento Law Makers Say Retroactive Changes to PG&E Fire Liability Unlikely
July 17, 2018
As California utility giant PG&E continues to face potentially existential financial liability over its role in the catastrophic October 2017 North Bay Fires, Sacramento lawmakers are considering multiple pieces of legislation aimed at revising state liability laws and consumer protections related to the catastrophic wildfires that many consider likely to represent a “new normal” for the state.
However, despite widespread agreement that changes need to be made, some legislative sponsors reiterated their belief that any alterations will not apply retroactively, meaning they will not impact PG&E’s potential liability for the October 2017 disaster sparked by downed power lines.
“I don’t see that there’s enough support in the Legislature to have anything be retroactive,” Bill Dodd, a Democrat representing Napa told The Press Democrat, according to a recent editorial.
Dodd is sponsoring one of two bills presently receiving consideration as potential remedies to the state’s fire-related policy. For any bill to become law, it will have to balance concerns from powerful lobbying groups representing PG&E and other utilities, insurance companies, local municipalities, and consumer advocates.
An alternative bill introduced by Assemblyman Bill Quirk, a Democrat representing Hayward, would provide PG&E with some form of relief by authorizing the company to sell state-backed bonds in order to raise funds to pay off civil damages associated with the October 2017 North Bay Fires. It is anticipated that PG&E’s potential liabilities for the devastating fires could rise to over ten billion dollars.
PG&E recently disclosed to investors that it has set aside $2.5 billion in anticipation of fire-related losses, but many observers consider that figure to be at the lower end of the company’s financial exposure.
For the editorial board of The Press Democrat—the preeminent local paper for the fire-scarred Santa Rosa region—the issue of PG&E’s passing on the cost of fire recovery to ratepayers hinges on the company’s criminal culpability, a fairly high standard.
“As we said in a recent editorial, it would be difficult to justify passing costs onto ratepayers if a utility is convicted of a criminal violation that resulted in a fire (which has yet to happen for any of the 2017 fires),” The Press Democrat stated in an editorial published July 15, 2018, despite reports by the state agency CalFire showing that PG&E failed to adhere to state guidelines regarding tree removal and vegetation clearance around its powerlines, which resulted in a number of fires. The editorial continued, saying, “[I]t wouldn’t be unreasonable to consider sharing the costs when there is no finding of negligence.”
However, as some fire-victim advocates have pointed out, allowing PG&E to pass the costs of fire damage onto ratepayers essentially is akin to PG&E burning down your house and then charging you for the cost of rebuilding.
Stay tuned to TheLawFirm.com for the latest legal developments related to the October 2017 North Bay Fires. If you or someone you know suffered loss of property or life as a result of the horrific fires, contact the experienced team of local attorneys at AdamsFietz.com now for a free consultation with an actual attorney!
The Press Democrat
North Bay Fires: Appellate Court Confirms PG&E Not Liable in 2015 Fire
July 12, 2018
In a case that could have ramifications for PG&E’s potential liability in the 2017 North Bay Fires, a California court of appeals reversed a lower court decision that potentially would have left the company vulnerable to punitive damages for the so-called Butte fire that took place in 2015. In a unanimous decision issued Tuesday, July 10, 2018, a three-judge panel unanimously found that nothing on the record would justify the imposition of punitive damages against PG&E over the Butte fire.
“PG&E’s evidence negates any inference that the company acted despicably, and with willful and conscious disregard for the rights and safety of others,” the panel wrote, citing the legal standard that would allow a court to impose punitive damages on the company.
To the contrary, the panel found that PG&E demonstrated a track record of investing millions of dollars annually to help ensure that vegetation was kept a reasonable distance from its equipment. According to the company, it spends nearly $200 million every year on vegetation clearing and trimming along its 135,000 miles of power lines.
Following an investigation, the cause of the Butte fire was found to be a tree that came into contact with a PG&E power line. The devastating blaze covered 70,000 acres of land and resulted in the destruction of 549 homes, as well as two deaths. The litigation against PG&E over the Butte fire includes 2,050 separate plaintiffs consolidated in Sacramento Superior Court under a single master complaint.
The appellate decision not to allow punitive damages against PG&E potentially could impact litigation related to the October 2017 North Bay Fires, as it provides additional precedent governing the circumstances when PG&E could be liable for punitive damages. Given the panel’s unanimous support of PG&E’s vegetation-maintenance program, plaintiffs seeking to show that PG&E acted with willful disregard for the public’s safety with regards to the October 2017 fires may face a higher hurdle thanks to the Butte fire decision.
If you or a loved one suffered financial or personal loss as a result of the October 2017 North Bay Fires, contact the experienced, local team of attorneys at AdamsFietz.com now for a free consultation!
North Bay Fires: CA Lawmakers Consider Changes to Utility Liability Rules in Wake of North Bay Fires
July 10, 2018
As northern California utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) and its parent company continue to face billions of dollars in potential liability over the devastating North Bay Fires of October 2017, California lawmakers are considering changes to the ways in which the law holds utilities accountable for wildfires sparked by their equipment.
The 112-year-old company potentially faces an existential threat following scathing reports issued by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire), which is charged with investigating the causes of the blazes. While CalFire has yet to issue its reports on the largest and most destructive of the fires, to date it has found evidence in 11 out of the 16 fires it has investigated that PG&E violated legal requirements for clearing trees and other vegetation from around its powerlines.
CalFire reported that the fires were sparked when high winds either toppled trees and branches onto powerlines or when powerlines were brought down by strong gusts. The CalFire findings are particularly significant because California law prohibits PG&E from raising rates on customers in order to reimburse itself for the costs of natural disasters where PG&E itself has been found to be negligent.
PG&E, a privately-owned company, has issued a report to shareholders indicating that it has set aside $2.5 billion in expected losses related to the October 2017 fires. However, with $10 billion in insurance claims having been made, even that sum could prove wholly inadequate, leading to a potentially fatal financial blow to the company.
As a result, PG&E now is taking a proactive approach in lobbying lawmakers in Sacramento to change the rules governing the utility’s liability for disasters in which it may play a role, according to The Press Democrat, which reported on July 2, 2018, that “Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders announced a special committee Monday [July 2] to discuss financial responsibility for fires, as well as fire prevention and requiring utilities to develop more expansive wildfire preparedness plans.”
While PG&E is pushing to limit its exposure in future catastrophes, insurance companies and local municipalities are its fiercest opponents, as these entities rely on reimbursements from utility companies following disasters like the North Bay Fires. Meanwhile, hundreds of lawsuits seeking to hold PG&E accountable for the damage caused by its equipment continue to proceed through the state and federal courts.
Stay tuned to Adamsfietz.com for the latest developments on the devastating North Bay Fires of October 2017. If you suffered harm as a result of these deadly blazes, contact the experienced, local attorneys at Adamsfietz.com now for a free consultation!
San Francisco Chronicle
North Bay Fire Lawsuit Update: PG&E Records $2.5 Billion in Anticipated North Bay Fire Costs
June 27, 2018
Following a series of scathing reports filed by the state authority tasked with investigating the causes of the devastating October 2017 northern California wildfires, PG&E announced at a press conference on June 21, 2018 that it will take a $2.5 billion charge in the current fiscal quarter in anticipation of costs associated with the North Bay blazes. With the California Department of Forestry and Fire (Cal Fire) having discovered evidence of possible statutory violations on the part of the utility giant in more than half of its completed investigations, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and its parent company PG&E Corp. warn that the figure is on the lower end of the utility giant’s potential liability.
According to PG&E, the $2.5 billion figure does not include potential costs associated with two of the largest and most devastating fires, the so-called Atlas Fire in Napa and the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County. PG&E presently faces approximately 200 lawsuits related to the numerous fires that were sparked during a severe windstorm on October 8, 2017. The utility’s total exposure is estimated to be as high as $15 billion.
“The companies are currently unable to reasonably estimate the upper end of the range, because there are a number of unknown facts and legal considerations that may impact the amount of any potential liability,” the press release stated, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
With California law restricting PG&E’s ability to recover disaster-related losses via rate hikes where the company has been found negligent, the Cal Fire reports showing PG&E noncompliance with applicable safety standards could be especially financially devastating for the companies. The reports also have not helped PG&E’s efforts to garner political support in Sacramento.
“We acknowledge that things will likely be more difficult for us on the legislative front,” PG&E Corp. CEO Geisha Williams conceded during a conference call with Wall Street analysts, per the Chronicle.
If you or a loved one suffered losses as a result of the horrific North Bay Fires of October 2017, contact the experienced team of local attorneys at Adamsfietz.com now for a free legal consultation!
San Francisco Chronicle
North Bay Fires Lawsuit News: North Bay Nursing Home Sued For Negligence Over North Bay Fire Response
June 27, 2018
Late in the night of October 8, 2017, as massive wildfires spurned on by gusting winds raced across northern California at a horrifying rate, elderly residents at the Villa Capri nursing home were scrambling to evacuate. The multistory facility operated by Oakmont Senior Living was responsibility for the care and housing of approximately 70 residents, many of whom suffered from conditions requiring intensive assistance, such as dementia and limited mobility.
However, according to attorneys for 17 residents and their family members currently suing Oakmont Senior Living over the events of that tragic night, as the disaster unfolded, it revealed appalling inadequacies in the facility’s emergency preparedness.
For example, even though California law requires that senior care facilities be equipped to be “self-reliant for a period of not less than 72 hours immediately following any emergency or a disaster,” Villa Capri lacked a backup generator with which to power—among other emergency functions—an elevator for the evacuation of low-mobility residents, many of whom used walkers or wheelchairs, located on the facility’s second floor.
Instead, according to the allegations, many of these residents were forced to fend for themselves, making their way down unlit stairwells. Unable to walk, one 92-year-old man is claimed to have rolled himself down the stairs to safety.
The claims filed in Sonoma County Superior Court include allegations of infliction of emotional distress, elder abuse, negligence, and false imprisonment.
This incident presents a striking of example of just how perilous substandard conditions at nursing homes can be in the face of emergency situations. As operators cut operating costs to boost profits, the impact is felt in terms of staff training, standards of care, and overall emergency preparedness.
If you or a loved one ever suffers harm at the hands of a negligent nursing home, contact the experienced team of attorneys at Adamsfietz.com for a free legal consultation!
The Press Democrat
PG&E Fire News: New Report Says PG&E Responsible for At Least 12 North Bay Fires
June 11, 2018
In a report released Friday, June 8, 2018, California state investigators determined that privately-owned utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) was responsible for at least 12 of the Northern California wildfires that made up the devastating North Bay Fires of October 2017.
The conclusions reached by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) do not cover the largest of the fires—the so-called Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa—the causes of which remain under investigation. Experts warn that if PG&E is found to be financially responsible for the damage wrought by the Tubbs Fire, it could mean economic calamity for the 112-year-old company.
Cal Fire investigators concluded that PG&E’s electrical lines were responsible for sparking eight separate fires in Sonoma and Napa counties, which led to eight deaths. The report similarly attributed blame to PG&E powerlines for starting the so-called Redwood Fire in Mendocino County, which killed nine people.
Cal Fire says the fires were started by either downed PG&E powerlines or by falling branches and trees coming into contact with powerlines. Perhaps most devastatingly for the company, the Cal Fire report concludes that in eight of the 12 fires covered by the report, PG&E appeared to have been in violation of state law. The report did not go into detail about exactly what state laws PG&E was accused of violating, but the most likely violations would involve state rules governing the clearing of branches and trees from around powerlines.
The June 8 report covering 12 fires comes on the heels of an earlier Cal Fire report finding PG&E responsible for sparking four smaller fires that occurred around the same time.
The Tubbs Fire, which remains under investigation, killed 24 people and resulted in the destruction of 5,636 structures.
Through a statement, PG&E continued to deny responsibility for the fires, among the most devastating in the state’s history.
“Based on the information we have so far, we continue to believe our overall programs met the state’s high standard,” PG&E said.
If you have suffered losses as a result of the devastating North Bay Fires of October 2017, contact the experienced team of local, North Bay attorneys at Adamsfietz.com for a free legal consultation! Report after report continues to find that PG&E failed to adhere to state law in causing many of these fires, and our dedicated attorneys will fight to get you the compensation you deserve!
San Francisco Chronicle
North Bay Fire Lawsuit News: PG&E Hopes For Lawmaker Bailout dims as Fire Reports Fault Company
June 11, 2018
With each new damning report issued by California state investigators over the causes of the devastating wildfires that struck Northern California in October 2017, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) continues to lose important political support in Sacramento, backing it may need to survive if the 112-year-old privately-owned utility is found legally responsible for billions of dollars in damages and dozens of deaths.
After releasing on June 8, 2018, a report detailing its findings on 12 additional fires, Cal Fire now has disclosed the results of its investigations into 16 of the North Bay Fires. Shockingly, in 11 out of those 16 instances, Cal Fire has concluded that PG&E was in violation of state law, most likely state rules governing the trimming of trees and branches around powerlines. Cal Fire has distributed these findings to the offices of local district attorneys, who now are determining whether or not to bring charges.
It is not unprecedented that PG&E would face criminal charges following a deadly disaster for which the utility was to blame. Following the 2010 gas pipeline explosion in a residential neighborhood in San Bruno, California, PG&E was convicted of six felony charges.
Regardless of whether or not criminal charges are brought, PG&E could face an existential threat over the economic cost of the disaster alone. The Cal Fire reports attributing blame to the company are particularly damning because under California law PG&E is not permitted to raise its rates to recoup disaster losses where the company has been found to have acted negligently. This would leave PG&E with few, if any, options for survival were in to be hit with tens of billions of dollars in penalties.
While PG&E had been directing an intensive lobbying effort at lawmakers in Sacramento to have these rules changed, many observers believe the recent Cal Fire reports have rendered such efforts dead on arrival.
“In my opinion, there are not the votes in the Legislature today to change inverse condemnation or strict liability,” Sacramento lobbyist Patrick McCallum, who himself lost a home in the North Bay Fires, told The San Francisco Chronicle, referring to two legal doctrines under which PG&E could be held responsible for billions of dollars in damage caused by the fires. “These [Cal Fire] reports show the Legislature and their staff what others have known, that there’s a history of mismanagement at PG&E.”
If you have suffered losses as a result of the devastating North Bay Fires of October 2017, contact the experienced team of local attorneys at Adamsfietz.com for a free consultation!
San Francisco Chronicle
PG&E North Bay Fires News: CA Lawmakers Consider PG&E Bail Out Via Relief Fund
June 8, 2018
With the privately-owned California utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) facing potentially devastating financial losses related to the northern California fires of October 2017, state lawmakers are grappling for ways to address the situation, made all the more complicated by PG&E’s already dubious safety record. While some in Sacramento have begun discussing the potential breakup of the 112-year-old company, others recently have floated the idea of a taxpayer-funded fire relief fund to help defray the costs of future disasters.
While no formal legislation has yet been introduced, policymakers have proposed a number of possible solutions, including a $1 billion fire relief fund paid for out of the state general fund. An alternative proposal would have the fire relief fund formed out of money paid into California’s cap-and-trade program.
However, with insurance claims from the October 2017 fires exceeding $10 billion in northern California alone, it is unclear what impact even a $1 billion relief fund would have in the face of California’s increasingly destructive (and increasingly costly) annual fire season.
Others have scoffed at the notion that a privately-owned utility such as PG&E—which reported over $1 billion in profits on over $16 billion in revenue in its last fiscal year—should be allowed to push its financial burdens onto taxpayers. According to some critics, this would amount to PG&E being compensated by taxpayers for fire damage caused by PG&E.
SB819, which passed the state senate in May 2018, would help protect against this outcome by making it illegal for a utility company to receive reimbursements from the fire relief fund if negligence or other inappropriate conduct were found on the part of the company. One of the bill’s authors, State Senator Jerry Hill, represents the San Bruno district where a fatal explosion occurred in 2010 when a PG&E natural gas pipeline exploded.
“There should be no bailout if they’re negligent,” Hill said, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.
If you have suffered losses as a result of the devastating North Bay Fires of October 2017, contact the experienced team of local attorneys at Adamsfietz.com now for a free legal consultation!
San Franciso Chronicle
North Bay Fires PG&E News: Cal Fire Report Says PG&E Failed To Trim Trees Around Power Lines
May 28, 2018
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) violated California law by failing to clear trees and other vegetation a safe distance from power lines, resulting in at least three of the deadly North Bay Fires of October 2017. Such is the damning conclusion outlined in a new Cal Fire report released Friday, May 25.
The report, the first results to be released from Cal Fire’s comprehensive investigation into the North Bay Fires, covered fires in rural Butte and Nevada counties. While the results of Cal Fire’s investigations into the larger fires in Lake, Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma counties are still pending, the Cal Fire report certainly will be of great interest to plaintiffs presently suing PG&E over fire damage in San Francisco Superior Court.
In total, the North Bay Fires, which were sparked October 8, 2017, resulted in the loss of over 6,000 homes and resulted in more than $9 billion in insurance claims, as well as causing the loss of 40 lives.
The four relatively small Butte and Nevada county fires covered by the Cal Fire report consumed over 9,000 acres and burned 134 structures but did not result in any injuries or fatalities. Cal Fire investigators concluded that all four of these fires were sparked when falling trees or branches struck PG&E powerlines, discovering evidence that PG&E had failed to comply with state tree-trimming-and-removal requirements in three of the four instances.
Cal Fire’s report was distributed to the district attorneys of Butte and Nevada counties and to California’s Public Utilities Commission, which overseas and regulates much of privately-owned PG&E’s operations.
While PG&E has blamed the North Bay Fires on a “perfect storm” of factors—with a wet prior winter resulting in higher-than-normal vegetation growth, only to be followed by a dry summer and the rare high winds that struck the area in October—attorneys representing plaintiffs in fires not covered by the Cal Fire report already have taken notice of the findings, expecting more of the same with regards to the other fires.
“The Cal Fire report confirms what we’ve known,” said John Fisk, attorney for Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties in their lawsuits against PG&E, according to The Press Democrat. “PG&E’s failure to follow the law, and failure to follow basic vegetation management practices, causes devastating wildfires. These utility-caused wildfires are preventable when multibillion-dollar investor-owned utilities are managed responsibly. This report may be the first step towards rebuilding the communities affected by those fires.”
If you have suffered the loss of property or a loved one as a result of the devastating North Bay Fires, TheLawFirm.com has experienced, local attorneys on the ground ready to take your case. Some of very own team members were affected by the North Bay Fires, so we know personally the impact they have had on literally every aspect of life. Contact us today for a free legal consultation!
The Press Democrat
North Bay Fires Lawsuit: Judge Rejects PG&E Bid To Dismiss Inverse Condemnation Claims
May 22, 2018
On May 18, a state superior court judge in San Francisco denied PG&E’s efforts to have plaintiffs’ inverse condemnation claims dismissed from a collection of consolidated lawsuits over the privately-owned utility’s role in the devastating North Bay Fires of October 2017. The decision, which may prove temporary pending an appellate court decision on the same issue in a different case, potentially could expose PG&E to billions of dollars in additional financial obligations to the fires’ victims.
Under the legal concept of inverse condemnation—which typically applies to government agencies and other governmental organizations—an entity can be held responsible for damages caused by its equipment or personnel even without a finding of negligence. In the case of the North Bay Fires, this means that PG&E could potentially be found liable for billions of dollars in fire damage without plaintiffs having to prove that PG&E was in any way negligent in its equipment causing the fire, a significantly lower legal threshold for plaintiffs.
Southern California’s main utility provider Edison International also faces similar legal exposure over a slew of fires in that part of the state, and, like, PG&E, its lawyers are arguing vehemently that inverse condemnation should not apply.
For its part, PG&E has argued that as a privately-owned company subject to rates determined by the state’s Public Utilities Commission, it does not have the ability to spread the burden across taxpayers as a true government agency would. Critics have characterized this argument as PG&E essentially saying that it has burned down victims’ homes, and now it wants to charge them—through rate increases—for the cost of rebuilding.
In his May 18 ruling, Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow rejected PG&E’s argument that applying inverse condemnation to the utility was unconstitutional, noting that PG&E had no right to automatically receive reimbursement for court-ordered damages through rate hikes.
Karnow’s reasoning in many regards mirrored that of Judge Allen Summer of the Sacramento Superior Court, who previously had ruled against PG&E on the inverse condemnation issue as it pertained to a 2015 fire in Butte County, California. The issue of inverse condemnation in that case is presently pending appeal, the outcome of which will prove crucial in the fate of the North Bay Fires cases as well. Should the state court of appeals find that inverse condemnation does not apply to PG&E in the Butte fire case, it will set precedent requiring Judge Karnow to reverse his ruling on the matter with regards to the North Fires lawsuits.
If you or your family suffered loss of life or property during the devastating North Bay Fires of October 2017, the experienced team of attorneys at Adamsfietz.com are standing by for a free legal consultation. Adamsfietz.com has lawyers already representing North Bay Fire victims, so they are up to speed on the latest developments and are ready to help you enforce your rights.
San Francisco Chronicle
Crucial Hearing Approaches In PG&E North Bay Fire Lawsuits
May 14, 2018
On May 18, the San Francisco Superior Court will hold a hearing, the outcome of which could prove crucial to the fate of over 100 lawsuits accusing PG&E Co.—the California utility giant—of causing the deadly and devasting North Bay Fires of October 2017. At issue before Judge Curtis Karnow will be whether or not PG&E can be found legally liable for the role the company’s power lines may have played in sparking the blazes, even if PG&E is not found to have been negligent in its conduct. Potentially, many billions of dollars in damages hinge on the outcome.
Attorneys for plaintiffs who fell victim to the fires argue that PG&E should be held responsible under the legal doctrine of inverse condemnation, which would hold the company liable for damages caused by its equipment even absent a negligence finding. Under the doctrine, which typically applies to government agencies, plaintiffs would need to demonstrate only that PG&E’s equipment was a substantial cause of the fires, a significantly lower legal hurdle.
For its part, PG&E argues that to find the company responsible under inverse condemnation essentially would mean financial ruin, costs that necessarily would be passed along to rate payers. This process would be complicated, PG&E further contends, because although the company is a privately-owned utility, it must seek approval for rate hikes from the California Public Utilities Commission, which has indicated it will apply a “prudent manager” standard to such requests.
The California state insurance commissioner has stated that insured losses from the fire have totaled more than $3.3 billion. Cumulatively, the North Bay Fires that began October 8 resulted in the deaths of 44 people, damaged or destroyed 14,700 homes, and charred more than 245,000 acres of land.
The San Francisco Superior Court is overseeing the consolidated cases, which were originally filed in Sonoma and Napa counties, as well as San Francisco county. Some municipalities—such as the counties of Sonoma, Mendocino, and Napa—also are suing the utility giant.
Did you suffer harm as a result of the devasting North Bay Fires of October 2017? Adamsfietz.com has a team of experienced, local attorneys ready to take on PG&E and any other entity that may be responsible for this terrible disaster. Contact us today for a free consultation!
PG&E Reveals Cost Defrayment Strategy In Earnings
May 14, 2018
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) is a somewhat unique company. On the one hand, as the quasi-governmental, monopolistic provider of essential utilities to millions of Californians and thousands of businesses, it is subject to a variety of rules, regulations, and laws that do not apply to ordinary companies.
On the other hand, however, PG&E is an investor-owned company with a legal duty to achieve maximum value for its shareholders. As such, it also is subject to certain disclosure requirements required of publicly traded businesses, like earnings calls.
On May 3, PG&E conducted an earnings call with its investors, in which it revealed its true intentions regarding any costs it faces from the devastating North Bay Fires of October 2017 (or any similar disaster): fight like hell to pay as little as possible while seeking reimbursement elsewhere for what it does pay.
To paraphrase one attorney representing victims of the North Bay Fires, PG&E essentially has burned the victims’ homes and businesses down, and now it wants to charge them—via rate increases—to rebuild.
According to the Press Democrat, a local North Bay newspaper, PG&E announced on the earnings call that “it will pursue all legal and legislative avenues to find ways of defraying rising costs of devastating events, like the October wildfires, that state regulators assign to utility companies when they’re deemed responsible.”
While PG&E may have been taking a more public-relations-friendly approach outwardly, the earnings call revealed the company’s true intentions, revealing once again the conflict of interest inherent in a for-profit company being granted monopoly rights over essential services.
That PG&E is looking to “pursue all legal and legislative avenues” once again highlights the need for experienced, diligent attorneys fighting on the side of victims, seeking the compensation they deserve while holding large, politically connected corporations to account.
If you or your family has been a victim of the devastating North Bay Fires, contact the experienced, local attorneys at Adamsfietz.com today for a free legal consultation. PG&E has a team of lawyers on its side, and you should too!
The Press Democrat
PG&E Gives Glimpse Of Upcoming Lawsuit Defense
March 17, 2018
In a series of eight separate filings submitted to the San Francisco Superior Court on March 16, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) offered its most detailed legal responses to date over allegations of its role in the catastrophic North Bay Fires of October 2017. Citing the potential for the court’s ruling in this case to set a precedent threatening the economic health of all private utility companies—not just PG&E—the company urged the court’s restraint.
Whereas victims of the North Bay Fires have sued PG&E alleging that the company was responsible—at least in part—for causing the devastating blazes, PG&E responded that the fires were brought on by a rare but dangerous combination of heavy rains—promoting lush vegetation growth—followed by severe drought, which resulted an abundance of fuel that lay vulnerable to the conjunction of heat and high winds that struck the area on October 8 and 9, 2017.
PG&E further contented that it should not be forced to bear the economic burden of the fire’s damage because it does not have the ability to unilaterally raise rates in order to offset the billions of dollars in damages for which the company potentially is on the hook.
The reaction to this line of argument by the utility company was swift and harsh, with many accusing PG&E of a massive display of tone-deafness.
As one plaintiffs’ attorney told The Press Democrat, “PG&E wants to increase your utility bill to pay for burning your house down.”
Among other things, plaintiffs allege that PG&E is responsible for failing to ensure power poles and lines could withstand high winds; failing to provide proper maintenance to power lines and other equipment; and failing to trim trees and other vegetation to keep them a safe distance from powerlines.
Have you suffered property damage, personal injury, or loss of a loved one due to the tragic North Bay Fires of October 2017? If so, Adamsfietz.com has a team of experienced attorneys ready to defend your rights and help you get the compensation you deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation!
The Press Democrat
February 5, 2018
On January 29, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to move forward with a lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) over the historic wildfires that ravaged northern California in October 2017, becoming the first government entity to do so. Additional municipalities are expected to join Sonoma County in its case, among them Lake County, Mendocino County, and Napa County, all of which suffered considerable damage as a result of the fires.
While state investigations into the origins of the devastating fires are ongoing, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors issued its decision following an investigation conducted by private attorneys hired by the county.
PG&E already has reported multiple damaged and/or downed power lines and poles in the vicinity of where the fires are suspected to have started, leading to widespread speculation that these power lines might have played a role in igniting the flames.
“We believe based on an investigation attorneys put together that PG&E was a significant cause of [the October fire in Sonoma County],” said Sonoma County Counsel Bruce Goldstein.
The suit will seek compensation for costs incurred by the county as a result of the fire, which burned more than 137 square miles in Sonoma County alone, resulting in 24 deaths and 5,130 lost homes. The additional expenses involve clean-up and debris-removal costs—including overtime pay for county workers—as well as recovery funds for the county parks destroyed in the blaze.
While the state and federal government in conjunction with private insurance companies have covered some of the costs, the county estimates that it still has shouldered an additional financial burden of up to $25 million due to the disaster. As a result, the county is facing an expected $21 million-dollar budget shortfall, exacerbated by a $10.7 million loss in property tax revenue from structures destroyed in the fire.
If you had property destroyed or suffered the loss of a loved one in the horrific northern California fires of October 2017, contact the expert attorneys at Adamsfietz.com for a free legal consultation.
February 5, 2018
A San Francisco Superior Court judge has ordered the consolidation of pretrial proceedings for over 50 lawsuits related to the devastating north bay fires last fall. In consolidating the suits, all of which seek to hold Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) accountable for its alleged role in causing the fires, the Court ruled against PG&E, which had sought to proceed on a case-by-case basis.
In reaching his decision, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow cited the similarity of the claims and the large amount of evidence common to all the cases as supporting consolidation in a single court, while arguing that the complexity of the litigation made the San Francisco Superior Court the most suitable venue, with its electronic filing capabilities and its department devoted specifically to complex litigation. Karnow further clarified that, once the pretrial proceedings are complete, plaintiffs will be free to bring suit in their home counties, should they so desire.
While Judge Karnow stated the total number of lawsuits presently as 56, southern California attorney John Fiske claims that his firm represents hundreds of additional plaintiffs that will soon be bringing suit, and he predicts that ultimately the number of individuals suing PG&E over the Wine Country fires will number in the thousands.
A growing body of evidence suggests that PG&E may be at least partially responsible for the devastating 2017 north bay fires. Stay tuned to TheLawFirm.com for the latest news on north bay fire litigation. And if you have suffered injury, loss of a loved one, or property damage as a result of the north bay fires, contact the expert attorneys at TheLawFirm.com now for a free consultation. .