According to several news reports and a report from KCRA.com, the death toll from the fire that decimated Paradise, CA and other areas around Butte County had reached 79 confirmed deaths by the night of November 18, 2018 while another 699 people were still listed as missing. While the toll in deaths constitutes the greatest loss from the most destructive wildfire in California history, the catastrophe also has had enormous economic consequences. The fire has burned over 150,000 acres and consumed over 11,000 homes. Amid mounting evidence that faulty electrical equipment or fallen high power lines caused the fire, lawsuits seeking compensation have been filed by individuals that lost their family home and/or loved ones.
What Do Lawsuits Claim the Electricity Provider Did Wrong?
Lawsuits filed against PG&E for causing the Camp Fire, which decimated the town of Paradise and portions of Magalia and Concow located nearby, allege the company was negligent in causing or intensifying the fire. According to one complaint filed in San Francisco Superior Court, PG&E used fees it collected for electrical service from consumers to fund increased profits while ignoring investments in safety and infrastructure maintenance. Lawsuits filed against PG&E also allege that the company was negligent in inspecting and managing its power lines and maintaining its infrastructure. Attorneys representing plaintiffs in lawsuits against PG&E note the following evidence in support of the utility provider’s role in causing the fire:
- A report from a neighbor who got an email concerning sparking wires
- Witnesses who indicated they saw the fire begin on a transmission line
- PG&E’s official mandatory report to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that disclosed an outage minutes before witnesses saw the fire erupt
- The report to CPUC indicated an outage in the area of the fire’s origin the morning the blaze began and a later patrol from the air exposed damage to a transmission tower in the area
- A weather station near where the fire started recorded sustained winds of 32 mph in the valleys east of Paradise with gusts up to 52 mph, humidity below 22 percent, and no significant rain in the area for over 7 months
Plaintiffs also question why power was not shutdown despite repeated warnings that PG&E might implement this safety measure. Despite seventeen different warnings to customers, which includes a warning an hour after the fire erupted, the utility company neglected to take this emergency precaution.
While PG&E has emphasized that the cause of the fire is still undetermined and that the damage was to a 115kV transmission line, which is not part of the Public Safety Power Shutoff program, an attorney involved in the litigation has suggested the company had a more nefarious reason for forgoing the emergency procedure. The company’s compensation program pays management bonuses based on limiting customer complaints rather than safety performance. When the utility service implements a shutdown, this action generates complaints and compromises these bonuses.
PG&E Lags Behind SoCal Utility Providers in Implementing Power Shutdowns to Avoid Fires
While PG&E issued advisories over a 48-hour period indicating a possible power shutdown in portions of Sonoma, Lake, Butte, Placer, Nevada, Sierra, Yuba, Plumas, and Napa counties, the company failed to follow the example of Southern California electricity providers. Although the factors PG&E considers when contemplating a shutdown include high winds, low levels of humidity, direct observations, and dry vegetation, PG&E has not provided a specific rationale for leaving the power on. While shutdowns by PG&E have been virtually non-existent, SDG&E a Southern California utility provider, has routinely been using this approach to prevent fires since wildfires swept through San Diego County in 2007. The SoCal provider also has spent over a billion dollars to change out aging wooden electrical poles with steel poles and stronger wires. Media reports note that PG&E has lagged behind SoCal power providers in adopting fire-related safety innovations and upgrades, but the reports do not provide an explanation.
If you of your loved ones were victims of the Paradise fire or another fire that might have been started by PG&E, you might have the right to pursue a lawsuit for compensation. We invite you to contact us at 1-800 YOUR LAWYER (1-800-968-7529) or send us an email to arrange your free case evaluation.
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