PG&E Liability for the Wine Country Fires

The cause of the most recent Wine Country Fires – which have taken 42 lives and destroyed 8,700 structures thus far – remains unknown. Yet an investigation is underway from Cal Fire and the Public Utilities Commission that focuses on Pacific Electric and Gas Company, or PG&E. The investigation is likely looking into possible negligence relating to the utility company’s power lines, structures, and pole maintenance. Should the investigation identify PG&E as liable for the fires, the company may be on the hook for billions of dollars in damages, settlements, and verdicts – much of which could go to fire victims.

PG&E’s Past Acts of Negligence

This isn’t the first time PG&E has faced scrutiny over the way they operate after a disaster. In fact, PG&E has been the center of so many negligence-related lawsuits that California State Sen. Jerry Hill has threatened to try to “break up the utility” if the current investigation finds that it caused the fire. The Senator said that PG&E has “crossed the line too many times” and needs to be dissolved in some way.

One major disaster PG&E was liable for was the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion. In this incident, eight people died and many more suffered injuries when a PG&E gas pipeline exploded due to improper installation. The courts gave PG&E the maximum sentence for the explosion: six felony convictions, $3 million in fines, a five-year probation, 10,000 community service hours, and independent safety monitoring. The courts also found PG&E guilty of obstructing and misleading investigators about how the company identified high-risk gas pipelines.

In 2015, PG&E was once again in the news for causing a catastrophe – this time, the Butte Fire that killed two people in Amador County. Butte Fire burned 70,868 acres and caused around $57 million in property damages. It is the seventh most destructive fire in California’s history. The fire started when a tree fell into a power line. A judge ruled that PG&E was liable for the fire for negligent tree maintenance. Now, PG&E may take the stand again if investigators find the company to blame for the Wine Country blazes.

What Would PG&E’s Liability Mean for Wildfire Victims?

So far, there has been no reported evidence that points to PG&E as the cause of the Wine Country Fires. There were, however, multiple reports of downed PG&E power lines in areas where the fires started – including in the Tubbs Fire, which is now the most destructive wildfire in California’s history. There will probably not be a conclusion to the investigation for many months. In the meantime, fire victims can work with attorneys to begin private investigations into the company and potentially file personal injury claims.

One couple in Santa Rosa has filed the first claim against the company, citing PG&E’s negligence in trimming trees around a power pole as the reason for the loss of their home in Tubbs Fire. In the future, there may be the opportunity to file similar claims against PG&E or to join a consumer class action. Civil claims can result in sizable settlements or verdict awards for fire victims who sustained injuries, loss of loved ones, and property damage. Speak to the lawyers at Eric Ratinoff Law for more information about legal opportunities.

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