The latest update to the PG&E bankruptcy includes the most recent ruling against the utility company. While the utility company publicly promotes its efforts to help wildfire victims and survivors, it continues to work behind the scenes to minimize its liability for wildfires started by PG&E equipment.

California Wildfires and Inverse Condemnation

PG&E and other utility companies in California have attempted to change the doctrine of inverse condemnation regarding wildfires caused by electric lines. The utility companies argue that inverse condemnation should not apply to investor-owned utility (IOU) companies.

Several decisions by state courts and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) have upheld inverse condemnation. PG&E decided to argue against the doctrine once again in its Chapter 11 bankruptcy case. If it had been successful with its arguments, PG&E would have lowered the amount of money it might potentially owe survivors and victims of California wildfires.

What is inverse condemnation?

Inverse condemnation is a doctrine of strict liability. Under this doctrine, utility companies are held liable for damages caused by fires sparked by their equipment. Property owners do not need to prove that the utility company was negligent. They only need to prove that the utility company’s equipment sparked the fire for the company to be held liable for damages.

PG&E argued that inverse condemnation was a form of social insurance. The idea was to allow a public entity to spread out the cost of wildfires to all taxpayers who benefit from the service. However, because PG&E is not a public utility and cannot raise rates without approval by the CPUC, it argued that it should not be subject to inverse condemnation.

What was the final ruling of the bankruptcy judge?

The bankruptcy judge hearing the motion by PG&E ruled against the utility company. The court held that the inverse condemnation doctrine would apply in the PG&E bankruptcy case. Therefore, the utility company can be held strictly liable for any damages arising from fires sparked by the utility company’s lines and equipment. This decision was a win for California wildfire victims who continue to fight for the compensation they deserve for their losses and damages. Even though this decision may be considered a win, wildfire survivors still face an uphill battle to recover compensation through PG&E’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case.

State Investigation into Camp Fire Reveals Serious Issues

The decision in PG&E’s bankruptcy case comes just after the release of a 700-page report by the CPUC’s Safety and Enforcement Division (SED). The SED report, dated November 8, 2019, investigated the cause of the Camp Fire in Butte County. The SED identified 12 specific violations of rules, requirements, and the California Public Utilities Code.

The report concluded that a C-hook failed, which allowed an insulator assembly to fall to the ground at the tower where the Camp Fire began. The SED also concluded that PG&E’s maintenance and inspection program before the Camp Fire was “inadequate to ensure that PG&E’s transmission lines, including the Caribou-Palermo Transmission Line, were in good condition to allow them to operate in a safe manner,” which violated the Public Utilities Code.

Other violations found by the SED included, but were not limited to:

  • PG&E failed to inspect the tower where the fire originated thoroughly. During inspections, the utility company failed to detect a Priority A condition or Safety Hazard.
  • There was a failure to document the delay in repair work on the Incident Tower.
  • PG&E did not conduct detailed climbing inspections, even though conditions were present that should have triggered climbing inspections.
  • The condition of the C-hook demonstrates that the utility company failed to maintain the Tower for its intended use.
  • PG&E failed to follow its procedures during specific detailed climbing inspections by using outdated inspection forms.
  • PG&E failed to report the Big Bend 1101 12kV Distribution Circuit reportable incident promptly. Only after hearing of a possible second origin of the fire through a CALFIRE press release did the utility company submit an electric incident report.

The report highlights the reasons why PG&E should be held liable for damages arising from the Camp Fire and other California wildfires. For wildfire victims, this report is just more evidence of the utility company’s negligence in maintaining its lines, which led to millions of dollars in property losses, injuries, and lost lives.

Do You Need Help Filing a California Wildfire Claim?

PG&E’s decisions to file for bankruptcy relief under Chapter 11 complicated the process of seeking compensation for wildfire damages. Many wildfire survivors and families of victims have received conflicting information through the media, mail, and online. If you are unsure what you need to do to file a wildfire claim against PG&E, contact our California wildfire attorney for help.

The Thompson Law Office represents many wildfire victims and families. We are seeking compensation through every available resource to help these individuals and families recover from the devastation caused by California wildfires.

However, the time to file a California wildfire claim is quickly running out. Once the time to file claims for wildfire damages and losses expires, you could lose your right to seek compensation from PG&E for wildfire damages and losses.

Don’t let the time expire on your wildfire claim. Let our legal team review your case and help you take the necessary steps to protect your legal rights. We have the resources, skills, and knowledge to handle the largest wildfire claims. However, we treat all claims with equal dedication and diligence, regardless of the size or complexity of the claim.

Your claim matters to you, so it matters to us. We understand that you have been through a traumatic ordeal. Let us take some of the stress off your shoulders by dealing with the lawyers, insurance companies, adjusters, courts, and other parties regarding your California wildfire claim.

The Lawyers of The Thompson Law Office Believe You Deserve Compensation for Your Losses and Damages

Please contact our office for a free consultation with a California wildfire lawyer. Call 1-650-513-6111 for more information or to schedule your free case review.