The Camp Fire is already the deadliest fire in California history, and it continues to burn. At least 79 people have been killed in the fire, and more than 15,000 homes and buildings have been destroyed.
As the fire’s cause is still being investigated, there are reports that indicate that Pacific Gas & Energy may be to blame. If PG&E is found to have negligently maintained its power lines, resulting in the fire that has destroyed property and lives, it may be liable to pay billions of dollars in claims filed by the victims.
Potential liability of PG&E for the Camp Fire
The Camp Fire is suspected to have started in the Pulga area and then to have spread from there through Concow, Paradise, and Magalia on Nov. 8. PG&E initially filed a report with the California Public Utilities Commission reporting that it had experienced a power outage in a high-voltage line in the Pulga area at 6:15 a.m on Nov. 8. A week later, PG&E submitted a second incident report that it experienced a second outage in its high-voltage line near Concow at 6:45 am on the morning that the fire started.
The initial outage near Pulga happened within a few minutes of when the first reports of wildfires in the area were received. The second report was not submitted by PG&E to the state until eight days after it occurred.
If PG&E’s utility equipment is found to have caused the Camp Fire, the utility could be liable to pay billions of dollars in damages to all of those people who have been affected by the fire. PG&E acknowledged that it may face liability in excess of the company’s insurance coverage if it is found to have been responsible.
Past PG&E problems
PG&E has a well-documented history of negligence with its equipment that has resulted in devastating fires. The utility’s equipment was found to have been the source of 17 different fires in Northern California in 2017, and many lawsuits from those fires are still ongoing.
Two lawsuits against PG&E for the Camp Fire have already been filed. One case was filed by a former police chief and a retired high school principal whose Paradise home was destroyed in the Camp Fire. That lawsuit alleges that PG&E failed to implement appropriate safety measures to prevent fires. The second lawsuit was filed on behalf of several other victims of the Camp Fire and contains similar allegations against the utility.
Potential liability issues
PG&E may be liable if it is found to have negligently maintained and repaired its power infrastructure, leading to problems that sparked the fires. It might also be liable if it knew or should have known of the potential dangers that its equipment presented but failed to take steps to correct the hazards. If the company’s insurance policy limits are exhausted, the victims may be able to go after the assets of PG&E itself.
The chief of the Public Utilities Commission stated that PG&E is unlikely to go bankrupt. Instead, he indicated that the utility will likely borrow money to pay the claims that might be filed against it if the company’s infrastructure is to blame for the Camp Fire. If the utility is unable to access low-cost loans, however, the utility rates for everyone are likely to increase.
People who are the victims of the Camp Fire and the families of people who died might want to consult with injury lawyers who are experienced in handling wildfire liability claims. The attorneys may work to hold PG&E or other responsible parties accountable for their actions. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.