(February 28, 2019) Though PG&E Corp. filed for Ch. 11 bankruptcy protection last month to escape creditors, its bankruptcy doesn’t end Camp Fire claims, according to a plaintiff’s attorney working in Chico, Calif.
“PG&E declared bankruptcy to try to hide from the liability of killing or injuring people in the Camp Fire,” said attorney Peter de la Cerda who represents several Camp Fire victims who suffered personal injury and/or business losses due to the fire. “These cases don’t end with PG&E’s underhanded bankruptcy filing. We are still pursuing them, even more aggressively now.”
PG&E Equipment probably caused Camp Fire
Evidence that PG&E was responsible for the Camp Fire continues to mount. PG&E Corp. said today that its own equipment probably sparked the deadliest wildfire in California history. The Wall Street Journal reported that for five years, PG&E repeatedly delayed a safety overhaul of a 100-year-old high-voltage transmission line that likely touched off the fire. PG&E told federal regulators several times over the last five years that it had planned to replace the dangerously old equipment, but then failed, again and again, to follow through on those plans.
Years of Gross Negligence
The latest findings uncover years of what can only be seen as gross negligence by the nation’s largest utility company. In 2013, PG&E told federal regulators that it planned to replace many of the towers, wires and hardware pieces on the line which likely triggered the Camp Fire – the Caribou-Palermo line. PG&E proposed the overhaul project in 2014, in 2015, and again in 2016, pushing the start date back each year. Then the company said that it planned to start the work again, in June 2018. Just four months after that last missed date, the deadly fire began. PG&E today still has not begun the necessary line work.
Camp Fire Nov. 8, 2018
On Nov. 8, 2018, the deadliest wildfire in California history was touched off right where PG&E had promised to do the necessary maintenance work and then failed, for more than five years, to do that work. On that date, winds kicked up before sunrise near Paradise, Calif., and then a Caribou-Palermo line wire snapped free, creating an electric spark that ignited the metal tower holding it. According to PG&E, one of their workers spotted a quarter-acre fire right under that line a few minutes later. In a matter of hours, the Camp Fire incinerated Paradise and killed 85 people.
PG&E’s repeated failures to address the Caribou-Palermo line were not previously reported. Nor was it reported, before today, that PG&E has found further problems on the Caribou-Palermo line. The company’s has now shut down that entire line and given no indication for when it might resume service.
PG&E Bankruptcy Filing
The Wall Street Journal reports that PG&E recorded a $10.5 billion charge in the fourth quarter related to the Camp Fire and an additional $1 billion in charges related to 2017 fires. That might help PG&E executives justify the company’s recent bankruptcy filing to themselves, but there’s no moral justification for it. PG&E did not have to declare bankruptcy. Company executives chose that route, though they had offers on the table – one from a Warren Buffet group – to sell it all or part of it and avoid bankruptcy.
PG&E losses mount
PG&E also sounded a warning about not being able to continue as a going concern. It reported a $6.9 billion earnings loss in 2018 that stemmed mostly from costs related to more than a dozen deadly wildfires across its service territory the last few years. It had earned a profit of $1.6 billion in 2017.
After the company’s CEO resigned last month, interim CEO John Simon told WSJ he realized more had to be done to keep customers safe.
PG&E Bankruptcy doesn’t end Camp Fire Claims
None of that is any consolation to victims or survivors of the Camp Fire who suffered personal injury, or lost their homes, businesses, or their loved ones in a preventable fire. There is, however, some consolation in knowing that PG&E Fire Lawsuits are still possible, even with PG&E’s bankruptcy filing.
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