Earlier this month, approximately two dozen victims of the deadly Camp wildfire brought suit against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (hereinafter “PG&E”) and its parent company in a San Francisco County Superior Court. This will likely be one of many legal attempts to hold the utility company responsible for the devastating disaster.
The lawsuit alleges that PG&E failed to properly maintain its infrastructure and equipment, which resulted in the ignition of the deadly fire in Butte County. The lawsuit also calls PG&E’s safety record an “abomination” and describes the company as having “developed a regular pattern of placing its own profits before the safety of the California residents it serves.”
The complaint goes on to allege that the fire resulted from a flawed corporate culture. Specifically, it states “[r]ather than spend the money it obtains from customers for infrastructure maintenance and safety, PG&E funnels this funding to boost its own corporate profits and compensation. This pattern and practice of favoring profits over having a solid and well-maintained infrastructure that would be safe and dependable for years to come left PG&E vulnerable to an increased risk of a catastrophic event such as the Camp Fire.”
State investigators have not yet determined what caused the fire, which is now the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s recorded history. However, the utility company did admit to state regulators that a high-voltage power line near the point of origin had a problem just before the fire started. PG&E stated that it has also filed an “electric incident report” with the Safety and Enforcement Division of the California Public Utilities Commission and is willing to cooperate with any investigations.
In its statement, PG&E claimed “As for potential liability, our focus right now is supporting first responders; positioning our employees to assess damage, restoring service and rebuilding infrastructure; and helping our communities recover. Because the cause of the fire has not been determined, it is uncertain if PG&E could be liable for any of the damages.”
Less than a week after the above lawsuit was filed, another complaint was filed against PG&E. This second lawsuit was filed by the daughter of a man killed in the Camp Fire. Gerald “Jerry” Rodrigues was a Navy veteran who resided in Paradise. His body was found in the charred remains of his home.
The wrongful death suit blames the company for the disaster, claiming that it observed hazardous conditions in Butte County in the days leading up to the fire, but failed to shut off power. The lawsuit seeks monetary and punitive damages from PG&E, noting its “long history of safety lapses,” and cites eighteen previous incidents, dating back to 1981. Similar to the lawsuit filed by other victims, this complaint builds the case that the fire started when a high-voltage transmission line failed, igniting the vegetation around it.
At the time this article was written, the Camp fire was responsible for 84 deaths, while there was still nearly 500 residents unaccounted for. Additionally, the blaze has decimated over 18,600 structures.