Sonoma County Fires

Sonoma County Fires
What Caused The Fires?

Sonoma County Fires

The Sonoma County wildfires of October 2017 have had a profound impact on the lives of Californians; with 23 lives lost and nearly 7,000 homes, businesses, and community centers destroyed, the impact of these events is sure to be felt for years to come. See the latest Sonoma County fire update.

As Sonoma County works to recover and rebuild, state officials are looking for answers regarding who or what may have caused the disaster. More than a year has passed with no official report yet. However the prime suspect for the Tubbs fire continues to be Pacific Gas and Electric Company. 

Sonoma County Fires: What caused the Sonoma County fires?

Although the cause of the Tubbs Fire is still the subject of ongoing investigation, many officials suspect that downed power lines located in close proximity to trees and other vegetation was a leading cause of the fires that began in October 2017. 

This is not the first time that Californians have been on the hook for corporate carelessness; a systemic disregard for necessary safety measures and proper maintenance across California’s non-governmental energy industry is thought to be responsible for many fires in the state’s past.

Neither are allegations of criminal negligence a first for PG&E – in 2015, PG&E was found responsible for causing the Butte Fire, which destroyed 70,000 acres in Amador and Calaveras Counties. It is expected that, once these lawsuits have been settled, PG&E will be required to pay over $1 billion in damages. In 2018 it is thought they also caused the Camp Fire, costing even more lives and destruction. In 2010, the company was convicted of violating pipeline safety laws and obstructing investigators after the death of 10 people in the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion. As a result, the company was ordered by the state government to pay $1.6 billion, in addition to private and federal settlements. 

An independent audit from the state of California later revealed that  PG&E had illegally diverted over $100 million from its safety operations budget to fund bonuses for its executives.  In 1994, the company was charged with  739 counts of criminal negligence  for failing to properly trim trees that were located near power lines, resulting in a wildfire that devastated the Sierra Nevada foothills area. 

Recent events, such as the Camp Fire, suggest that these events have not provided enough incentive for the company to change its behavior. So what will? We once thought that a large enough lawsuit would shock PG&E into responsibility. However, that now seems unlikely. PG&E knew that they were both being blamed and sued for the Tubbs Fire, yet they are now being accused of allowing the Camp Fire to happen. Furthermore, they successfully lobbied to have the ratepayers pick up the tab for the damage done to Sonoma County.

Nevertheless, we are encouraging everyone who suffered loss or injury from the Tubbs Fire to join the lawsuit against PG&E. If you don’t, it will be YOU who has pay the entire tab. A failure to sue PG&E is the same as saying ‘you burned down my house but I’ll just deal with it on my own’.

We know that there are a lot of lawyers seeking these cases in Santa Rosa. Call us and come see us so we can explain why we are the right lawyers for you. The time to file a claim is running out.

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Attorney Jeremy Fietz holds the ‘Largest Wrongful Death Settlement’ in Sonoma County.

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Sonoma County Fires: What actions can be taken to recover losses and damages from the fires?

Most households will have some level of insurance coverage against fire damage. This coverage varies by policy and geographical area, but can include expenses relating to fire and smoke damage to your home and belongings, as well as additional living expenses such as travel and hotel fees in the case of displacement. Contact your insurance company to determine which expenses can be covered and what documentation you will need to submit with your claim.

Unfortunately, even premium insurance plans will likely not cover the full amount of losses from fire damage. Other damages — such as the health effects of smoke inhalation, the destruction of priceless family photos, and time spent relocating, recovering, and rebuilding — cannot be easily quantified for reimbursement.

An additional way to regain some of these lost expenses is by filing a lawsuit against the entity responsible for the fires. The attorneys at Adams Fietz believe that, at the conclusion of the current investigations by state agencies Cal Fire and the California Public Utilities Commission,PG&E will be found to be partly or entirely at fault for the Sonoma County fires, citing the company’s long history of negligence and multiple accounts that the company had failed to trim vegetation around power lines. Hundreds of families have already come forward with their PG&E claims; these claims can be filed quickly, will not involve going to court or attending a trial, and will not require any documentation than is not already being collected for one’s insurance company.
One important thing to note is that these claims against PG&E are not in a class action; class action suits involve one or two claimants coming forward on behalf of a larger group or ‘class.’ This offers individuals very little opportunity to make their own decisions, and often the payouts are small. However, when hundreds or thousands of people make individual claims against PG&E, this becomes a mass tort case.

Once these individual claims are filed, they are consolidated into a Judicial Council Coordinated Proceeding (JCCP). This will likely take place in San Francisco rather than Sonoma County, as local courts are already overwhelmed by the effect of the fires and do not have as much experience in dealing with mass tort cases. The Coordinated Proceeding will appoint a judge to manage these cases so that the claims may move forward together; however, each individual still retains the right to make his or her own choice at the end.

Fortunately, these cases do not require much effort on the part of the victims; other than providing information about lost or damaged property that has already been collected for one’s insurance company, individual claimants will not have to do any work throughout the case. There is no payment required unless you win your case, and individuals will likely never have to go to court; most of the work will be accomplished behind-the-scenes through our legal team.

These cases involve a lot of information and evidence, which can unfortunately take time to consider; similar cases been known to take between two to five years before a settlement is reached. However, the payoffs received at the end of the process are more than enough to justify the small effort of making a claim today.

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