Feb 25, 2021 - Energy & Environment

California wildfire victims sue former PG&E executives for alleged neglect

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) crews repair power lines that were destroyed by the Camp Fire on November 21, 2018 in Paradise, California.
PG&E crews repair power lines that were destroyed by the Camp Fire on Nov. 21, 2018 in Paradise, California. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A trust representing over 80,000 victims of deadly Northern California wildfires ignited by Pacific Gas and Electric's (PG&E) electrical grid filed a lawsuit Wednesday against almost two dozen of its former executives for alleged neglect.

Why it matters: The suit, filed in the San Francisco Superior Court, accuses them of "dereliction of duty" by allegedly failing to ensure the equipment would not kill people.

  • If successful, the suit could ease a billion-dollar shortfall the Fire Victim Trust is facing due to half of a promised settlement consisting of PG&E stock that's now "worth less than what was hoped for when the deal was struck toward the end of 2019," AP notes.

The big picture: The trust retained the right to bring a suit as part of the $13.5 billion settlement reached between the fire victims and PG&E, as the company was facing bankruptcy. It gained bankruptcy approval last June.

  • The lawsuit concerns the catastrophic 2017 North Bay Fires and the 2018 Camp Fire.
  • PG&E pleaded guilty in 2018 to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter for those California residents killed in the Camp Fire.
  • The suit seeks to "tap into the $200 million to $400 million in liability insurance that PG&E secured for the former executives and board members," case lawyer Frank Pitre told AP.

What they're saying: John Trotter, the trustee overseeing the earlier settlement, said in a statement those named in the suit "had the responsibility to customers, employees, shareholders, and the public to ensure that safety was one of PG&E’s highest priorities."

  • "They had the power to do so," he added. "Yet they failed, at enormous financial cost to the company and indescribable cost to entire Northern California communities."

The other side: Per AP, PG&E said in response to the suit, "We remain focused on reducing wildfire risk across our service area and making our electric system more resilient to the climate-driven challenges we all face in California."

Read the complaint, via DocumentCloud:

Go deeper