(Nov. 21, 2018) Paradise, Calif. residents filed suit Nov. 13, 2018 against California Pacific Gas & Electric in San Francisco Superior Court. Their lawsuit alleges that PG&E’s negligence and faulty equipment generated the deadly Camp Fire. The tragedy has so far burned more than 130,000 acres in Butte County, destroyed thousands of homes, and killed dozens of people.
The suit, titled “Quammen Et Al vs. PGE,” lists 25 plaintiffs. They are described as “an owner and/or occupants of real property damaged by the Camp Fire.”
Suit claims PG&E Line Failed
The lawsuit petition attacks PG&E’s safety record. It claims, “[T]he Camp Fire started when a high-voltage transmission line failed, igniting vegetation.” The lawsuit is attempting to saddle PG&E with legal liability for the most destructive fire in California history.
Camp Fire’s Cause still undetermined
Despite the suit’s allegations, the cause of the Camp Fire has not yet been determined. California Fire did, however, determine that PG&E equipment did spark similarly destructive California wildfires in 2017.
KQED reported that PG&E recorded “an incident early Thursday, Nov. 8, just before the fire began. The incident involved a major electrical transmission line at a remote site in Butte County. That incident report came just minutes before the reported start of the Camp Fire.
In addition to that oddly-timed report, just hours before the fire spread, PG&E announced via a November 8 press release that it had decided to cancel a previously proposed service suspension to some Northern California households as an anti-fire measure. The timing could hardly have been more ironic, or more odd, or perhaps coincidental if PG&E were to turn out to have no responsibility or liability in the latest tragic California fires.
The company’s statement just prior to the start of the fires read:
“Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has determined that it will not proceed with plans today for a Public Safety Power Shutoff in portions of eight Northern California counties, as weather conditions did not warrant this safety measure.”
On Tuesday, PG&E began notifying approximately 70,000 customers in portions of Northern California of the potential that the company would turn off power for safety given forecasts of extreme fire danger conditions. PG&E will now notify customers […] that the potential Public Safety Power Shutoff has been canceled.
That statement and the nearly unbelievable timing of it do not look good for PG&E, in terms of the company’s potential liability. However, both people and corporations in the U.S. are, by law, presumed innocent of any wrongdoing until proven guilty.
Nevertheless, California fire investigators as well lawyers who have filed the first lawsuits in these fires have yet to prove exactly what caused the fires.
Cause of Fires Undetermined
PG&E spokesperson Mayra Tostado told Curbed SF: “It’s important to remember that the cause has yet to be determined. (We) are aware of lawsuits regarding the Camp Fire.” Ms. Tostado wished to emphasize PG&E’s efforts to restore service rather than comment on the complaint.
The California plaintiffs who filed suit over the fires allege that PG&E has a damning record of maintenance oversights that regularly creates dangerous conditions for the company’s customers. Their petition includes some very emotional language. It reads, in part:
“PG&E has a duty to manage, maintain, repair, and/or replace its aging infrastructure to protect public safety. These objectives could and should have been accomplished in a number of ways. […] PG&E knew or should have known that a breach of those standards and duties constituted negligence and would expose members of the general public to risk of death, injury, and damage to their property. PG&E’s safety record is an abomination.”
PG&E Lawsuit filed over Camp Fire
This latest PG&E lawsuit petition cites at least 18 separate fires and explosions caused by PG&E infrastructure since 1991. It includes the tragic 2010 San Bruno gas explosion that left eight people dead.
The recent northern California fires have also sparked other, similar lawsuits. The Sacramento Bee reported on a Butte County appraiser who is also planning legal action.