Is PG&E Responsible for the Napa & Sonoma Fires?
PG&E’s Longstanding History of Noncompliance
Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) has faithfully served the Northern California community for 112 years. However, in the past 23 years, PG&E has become the number one suspect for most Northern California wildfires.
It started in 1994, when PG&E was found negligent in the Rough and Ready Fire that destroyed 12 homes. Although the amount of destruction from the Rough and Ready Fire was on the lesser side, investigations into PG&E revealed immense corporate corruption. PG&E diverted almost $80 million from tree-trimming program budgets into PG&E profits. Money that was meant to secure tree branches from electrical components was used for company gains. It was this negligence that lead to the Rough and Ready Fire and the subsequent destruction of 12 homes.
Here is a list of other fires where PG&E safety violations were proven to be the igniter:
- Campbell Fire, 1990
- Fawn Hill Fire, 1992
- Sailor Fire, 1995
- Sonoma County Fire, 1996
PG&E’s dance with negligence hardly stopped after 1996. 2 years ago, the Butte Fire killed 2 people while destroying 549 homes. When investigations took place, it was found that PG&E failed to maintain power lines, a mistake that ended up causing the fire. PG&E was hit with an $8.3 million fine—a drop in the bucket compared to the $800 million in liability insurance that PG&E currently holds.
Current Status of PG&E Investigations
Currently, CalFire is investigating PG&E while simultaneously helping the Sonoma and Napa Valleys.
In just over a month, CalFire has collected items such as:
- Line fused cutouts
- Overhead conductors owned by PG&E customers
- Electrical poles
- Primary conductors
- Secondary conductors
- Field-phase primary insulator
No definitive evidence of the start of the fires has been produced at this time. However, authorities like CalFire will find the igniters eventually.
PG&E Prepares Resistance
While CalFire continues to gather evidence, PG&E is well aware of its status as the suspected blazes’ source of ignition. PG&E has begun to mount its attack against accusations, claiming that winds were the primary cause of destruction. In addition to this claim, PG&E has stated that through preliminary investigations, PG&E has reason to suspect that a third party electrical company is to blame for one of the fires. While neither of these claims have been upheld by CalFire, there is significant evidence that PG&E has a history of violating California electrical safety laws.
PG&E had an average of 705 works orders finished late every year over a 5 year period. This means that in the recent past, PG&E had 3,527 late work orders. As proven by the 2015 Butte Fire, all it takes is one neglected power line to prove guilt, which means that PG&E has had 3,527 past reasons why they could have been found guilty of potential fires. This is why CalFire is collecting potential evidence, and why PG&E stocks have dropped 22% over the last month. Investors are fearful, authorities are probing, and history will probably repeat itself.
California Fire Insurance FAQs
How Quickly Do I Need to Turn in My Claim?
If an insurance holder has lost property in a fire, he or she must give a written notice to their insurance company without unnecessary delay. This means that you, as an insurance holder, must notify your insurance company about the losses you sustained as soon as possible. You do not have to know all that you have lost at this point, you just need to tell the company that you have expected losses due to a fire.
After you inform the insurance company, you only have 60 days to turn in an official “proof of loss” portfolio. This means you will turn in the evidence of all the damage your property sustained from the fire, the list of estimated costs of all your burnt items, and the verified proof that substantiates these claims all within 2 months of the initial incident. So, in short, speed is essential to your claim.
What Are the Different Policies That I Could Have?
A homeowner can potentially have four types of fire insurance coverage:
- Dwelling: This coverage insures the house itself. If a wall, roof, and other portions of the actual house structure are damaged in a fire, then dwelling coverage should protect it.
- Other Structures: This coverage insures any other structures that may be on a property that are not the house. Structures such as detached garages, workshops, guest homes, and other structures that are on the property other than the home should be covered.
- Personal Property: This coverage insures the actual items in your house, in other structures, and on your property. Your electronics, furniture, tools, and other articles in your home should be covered under this policy.*
- Loss of Use: This coverage insures additional living expenses you might face due to the fire damage in your home. This should cover hotel expenses if your family’s house is uninhabitable and you must live out of a hotel while waiting for repairs. It will also cover “lost rent” if you had a tenant living in your home when the fire damaged the property and made it uninhabitable.
*It is important to note that these personal items are not covered in the state of California unless specifically written in your policy: accounts, bills, currency, deeds, evidences of debt, money or securities, and bullion or manuscripts.
What Kind of Payout Can I Expect for My Home?
Your home is likely covered under its “Actual Cash Value” amount. The actual cash value of a home is the worth of a home at the time that it received damage. The actual cash value is not the amount that you paid for it, but what the house is worth now. This means that a home’s value “depreciates” over time, similar to the depreciating value of a car. For example, a 10-year-old home is going to be worth less than a similar 2-year-old home in the same area based on the depreciation of the older home.
This means a fulfilled policy on the actual cash value of a totally lost home will rarely cover the cost of rebuilding it. Newer materials cost more than older materials, so believing that it is possible to rebuild a home on its old cash value is similar to believing that it is possible to sell an old computer and buy a new one at the same price. Your old home’s worth is probably not equal to the cost of rebuilding a new one.
In the event that your home was not totally lost, but suffered fire damage, you may have the opportunity to file for replacement cost coverage. The main difference between total house loss insurance and replacement loss insurance is the fact that replacing property can be repaid for without any deduction for depreciation. If you replace a roof that caught on fire, you would be repaid for the cost of repairing the roof—not the value of the roof when it caught on fire. It doesn’t matter if you own a 10-year-old home, a 2-year-old home, or a 25-year-old home, if you repair fire damage that occurred to your home, you should be repaid the amount that you paid for the repairs. The condition of the repaired item before it had been destroyed has no bearing on an insurer’s liability to pay for its repair.
All of these examples have been made with a policy limit that completely covers the damages or total loss of a home. An insurance company should cover the actual cash value of a home or the actual cost of repairing home damages if these amounts are within the insurance policy limit. The insurance company does not have to cover the actual cash value of your home or the actual repair costs if these values exceed your policy limit. If you are unsure that your policy limit covers these amounts, call (888) 493-1629 for a free consultation with a fire insurance attorney.
Is There Anything That an Insurer Must Do in My Claim Process?
While you are bound by law to perform insurance filing actions by certain dates and times to receive full insurance compensation, insurance companies are also bound by law in various ways. Insurance companies must legally treat your interests as equal to their own. This means that they must care for your claim in the same way that they care for their own business.
If an insurance company puts its needs before policyholders' needs, they could face legal penalties.
Ambiguity of insurance policy language will always be in favor of the insurance holder within a court of law. Terms like “fair,” “reasonable,” and other such words mean different things depending on the circumstances. For example, if an insurance policy claims that “the insurer will give the insured an increased amount of time to file an insurance claim given reasonable circumstances or evidence,” the term “reasonable” must be clarified in a court of law. The ambiguity of the word reasonable in this sentence is favorable for an insurance holder, but he or she would need to prove how their current filing situation fits under a “reasonable circumstance” in a court of law. This is why California fire insurance claims should rarely be filed by someone with little to no legal experience.
Get a Wildfire Insurance Claim Consultation: (888) 493-1629
The confusion you may be experiencing in trying to understand your policy is normal. Insurance writers create their policies to purposefully confuse the people they insure. These companies do not want to pay out their policies, and they will find every loophole imaginable to do so. However, the wildfire insurance claim attorneys at Arnold & Itkin LLP can hold insurance companies responsible. We know how insurance companies think because we have secured billions of dollars for our clients against thousands of companies who refuse to pay their dues.
If you or a loved one have been affected by the Northern California wildfires and are in need of assistance, pick up the phone and call (888) 493-1629.