With hundreds, and, potentially, thousands of people directly impacted by the fires across Sonoma, Napa, and surrounding counties in northern California, some injured plaintiffs are turning to class action lawsuits. These class action lawsuits are focusing on the entity that they believe may be responsible for these fires: PG&E, the utility company responsible for power and gas service in most of northern California. PG&E class action lawsuits provide both benefits and drawbacks for those injured, and can be a complex area of law to navigate.
In general, class action lawsuits are an action initiated by multiple parties who have all been similarly injured by the same alleged perpetrator. For example, in the case of the California wildfires, homeowners who have all had their homes destroyed or damaged by fire can bind their individual lawsuits together into a class action. If PG&E is shown to be at fault (either due to their actions or inactions), these individual homeowners can join together in a PG&E class action lawsuit for their injuries.
How does this PG&E class action suit benefit homeowners?
Spreading out the cost
There are several benefits available to homeowners in this situation resulting from the filing of such a PG&E class action lawsuit. First, the cost of litigation is quite expensive, even if the prospect of recovery may be high. For example, a homeowner whose property does not have substantial damage from the fire might consider their claim too small to be worthy of pursuing alone (or may have trouble finding an attorney who will represent him or her). However, if that homeowner joins with many other homeowners who also have small claims, the cost and complexity of this litigation can roll into a single class action suit.
Strength in numbers
Second, more individuals involved in a lawsuit can compel faster and better settlement terms. For example, if PG&E is sued by a single homeowner for $10,000 worth of damages, PG&E might be willing to “wait and see” if the homeowner will actually zealously pursue his or her claim, knowing the difficulty, time, complexity, and stress involved in a lawsuit. PG&E may have little incentive to settle the lawsuit, in lieu of waiting out the injured homeowner in the hopes that they may simply give up. On the contrary, however, 100 homeowners bringing a PG&E class action lawsuit that alleges one million dollars of total damages presents a more serious issue to the company. As a result, PG&E may be willing to settle to resolve the claims early on in the litigation, instead of risk losing at trial, or waste money continuing to defend a lawsuit that they believe can be resolved via a settlement.
Larger payouts attract
Third, many class action lawsuits are rely on contingency fee basis by attorneys. Again, a homeowner with a small claim may have a difficult time attracting an attorney, because, even if the claim is successful, the attorney may only earn a small amount for what might result in a large amount of time and effort. A homeowner may similarly lack the financial means to pay for an attorney out of pocket. Because, in class action lawsuits, traditionally a single attorney or single team of attorneys represents all members of the class, legal fees are dispersed among all members or, much more commonly, the attorneys will operate on a contingency basis, on the thought that the potential recovery is quite high. This means that no member of the class (no injured homeowner) will be responsible for fronting the cost of legal fees, and the attorneys will only be paid/compensated when the class action lawsuits settle or are successfully litigated.
Is signing up for PG&E class action lawsuits right for homeowners?
Despite these potential benefits, there are also numerous downfalls with class action lawsuits, particularly in the case of suing a utility company such as PG&E. First, joining or initiating a class action lawsuit usually means giving control of the lawsuit to the attorneys in charge of the class action. Although the attorneys represent the interests of any given injured party, they also represent the interests of all others in the class. This means that the attorneys may pursue strategies, or pursue a settlement, that any given homeowner may be upset with, and that homeowner may lack the ability to control the attorney as the homeowner would if the attorney represented the homeowner directly.
Second, class action lawsuits can be timely. Class action lawsuits have various legal complexities that are not normally apparent in traditional lawsuits, meaning that recovery can take quite a bit longer, unless a settlement is achieved or seen as a desirable outcome.
Third, and most importantly, class action lawsuits remove the ability of an injured individual to sue on their own behalf. This may be especially significant in the case of injuries or damages sustained as a result of wildfires. For example, if a given homeowner’s damages are much more substantial than another homeowner, joining a class action might mean that the homeowner with more substantial damage is inadequately compensated, while the homeowner with less substantial damages is compensated more than their equitable share. Moreover, if the PG&E class action lawsuit is unsuccessful, this means that the injured or damaged homeowner will lose all rights in the future to pursue a claim against the utility company thought to be at fault for the fire, even if that homeowner’s case may be significantly stronger than others in the class.
Class Action Lawsuits against PG&E for California Wildfires
Class action lawsuits against companies like PG&E alleging damages resulting from wildfires in California are not uncommon, but are also quite frequently accompanied by individual lawsuits by many individuals. In general, if a homeowner sustains damage, but not significant damage or injuries, joining or attempting to initiate a PG&E class action lawsuit may be a smart way of obtaining recovering. However, if a homeowner has sustained substantial damages or injuries, an individual suit against the at fault party, such as, potentially, PG&E, may be both more lucrative and result in a faster recovery.
The ideal course of action for a homeowner to pursue after recovering from destructive wildfires is, however, a choice best made with the consultation of an attorney skilled and experienced in class action litigation, and in the damages resulting from such a disaster.
Thompson Law Office Can Help With Your PG&E Class Action Lawsuit
Thompson Law Office is here to help you with your PG&E class action lawsuit. Our California wildfire attorneys are experienced with PG&E lawsuits and can help you get the maximum compensation you need and deserve. We offer a free consultation so that we can go over your case in great detail before any decisions are made.
Our clients are able to make informed decisions about the best way for them to move forward with a potential PG&E class action lawsuit. That is why we insist on completely free consultations to all prospective clients. We will sit down with you in person and review the facts of your case. Once we have this information, we can assess the merits of your potential PG&E class action lawsuit and help you to understand your options.
If you or a loved one have been a victim of a wildfire caused by PG&E negligence, contact attorney Bobby Thompson today.
Ready to take the first step? Just fill out our brief form to request a free consultation right now.
January 14, 2018 UPDATE: “A Perfect Firestorm – PG&E’s Saga of Negligence and the 2017 California Wildfires” details our analysis of PG&E’s role in the events leading up to the 2017 California Wildfires.