Sonoma County Fire and PG&E Lawsuit Updates


The latest lawsuit and trial updates relating to PG&E and the California Fires

PG&E Lawsuit Updates


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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 TheLawFirm.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!

Source:

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 TheLawFirm.com for a free consultation!

Source:

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 TheLawFirm.com now for a free legal consultation!

Source:

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!

Source:

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 TheLawFirm.com is standing by for a free legal consultation. TheLawFirm.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.

Source:

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? TheLawFirm.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!

Source: SFGate.com

KTVU.com

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 TheLawFirm.com today for a free legal consultation. PG&E has a team of lawyers on its side, and you should too!

Source: 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, TheLawFirm.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!

Source: 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 TheLawFirm.com now 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.

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