Last week we reported that the impending Cal Fire report could spell disaster for Pacific Gas & Electric, the California utilities giant. On Friday, Cal Fire released their report on the Wine Country fires...and it included damning allegations against PG&E, confirming what many residents of the six counties in Northern California's wine country already knew.
The report's major findings include evidence that PG&E caused or contributed to 12 of the 170 wildfires, most of them caused by trees falling on PG&E's power lines. In at least one case, a fire was caused when PG&E attempted to re-energize a downed power line.
The fires that PG&E caused include:
- The Atlas Fire – 6 lives; 51,624 acres; 783 structures
- The Partrick & Nuns Fires – 3 lives; 56,556 acres; 1,355 structures
- The Redwood Fire – 9 lives; 36,523 acres; 546 structures
The cause for the most destructive of the fires—the Tubbs Fire—is still being investigated. However, if there were no other fires caused by PG&E than these 4, it would still be enough to hold their responsible for over a dozen deaths and more than 100,000 acres of damage. With potentially hundreds of PG&E claims arising this year, residents and victims may finally have a chance to see justice done against the people responsible for their losses.
Vulnerable to Criminal Charges & Massive Losses
The most incriminating finding was the report's conclusion that PG&E had violated the law in 8 of the 12 fires caused by the utility's lines. That finding opens up PG&E to criminal charges for the second time in 2 years—only a few years ago, the company was convicted of causing a fatal gas pipe explosion in San Bruno. With nearly 20 deaths attributed to their practices, criminal proceedings could (and should) mean significant penalties. At least one state lawmaker is fighting to split up the company.
The allegations of state violations could also mean the end of PG&E's defense against civil liability. California law makes utilities legally liable for damage caused by its equipment, even when complying with the state's regulations—this is known as "inverse condemnation." PG&E had been arguing against California's inverse condemnation law, but with violations attached to their name for 8 of the fires, the defense no longer applies. Now PG&E is arguing that "a new normal" is required, blaming the fire's damage on global warming, drought conditions, increasingly long fire seasons, and high amounts of dead trees.
Interestingly, homeowners and families who lost everything in the fires have at least one ally—a coalition of insurers has formed to call on lawmakers to take PG&E to task for the damage caused by the fires. "Legislators should protect Californians' pocketbooks and prioritize public safety over private profits," a statement from the group, named Rebuild with Resilience, said.
We've made no secret of our firm's stance on the consumer insurance industry. Many of its practices are flawed by design, created to pressure individuals into settling for paltry amounts to keep claims limited in size. As a result, large-scale disasters often turn into paydays for insurance companies. For example, after Hurricane Katrina, many of the nation's largest insurers posted record profits.
While we agree with Rebuild with Resilience's position, the truth is that PG&E is only insured up to $800 million—far less than the $10 billion in damage the Wine Country Fires caused. For individual policyholders, 90% of the cost of rebuilding Northern California will be on the shoulders of insurers—we suspect that Rebuild with Resilience is hoping to shift more of the cost onto the utility's shoulders.
Napa Wildfire Lawyers Standing with the Fire Survivors
Regardless of where the money comes from, our wildfire insurance attorneys believe that there is only one right conclusion to this fire: total and complete restoration of every survivor's losses. Destroyed cars, burned homes, lost wages, and other damages ought to be 100% paid back to each and every survivor of the Wine Country fires. Insurance companies and PG&E are under ethical and legal obligations to provide for that recovery, regardless of the size of the costs. In the end, all that matters is the public, not the viability of PG&E.
If they do not provide it voluntarily or in the amount required by law, Arnold & Itkin plan on taking them to task in court. We've secured billions of dollars for our clients because we're not afraid of a fight, and we're not afraid to stand with communities after disaster strikes.
If you suffered losses in last year's wildfires, call (888) 493-1629 to review your options with a lawyer. Schedule a free consultation today by phone or with our online form today.