Forest fire victims sue former PG&E management for negligence | Climate news

A California company accused of “ dereliction of duty, ” the plaintiffs fear they will not be able to pay a $ 13.5 billion settlement.

A trust representing more than 80,000 victims of deadly wildfires started by the Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) power grid is suing nearly two dozen former executives and board members of the utility for alleged breaches of their laws. duty to ensure that the equipment would not kill people.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in San Francisco Superior Court is the result of a $ 13.5 billion settlement that PG&E reached with wildfire victims while the utility was bankrupt from January 2019 to June 2020 .

As part of the deal, PG&E granted victims the right to grapple with the public service hierarchy leading up to and during a series of wildfires that have killed more than 100 people and destroyed more than 25,000 homes and businesses. in northern California in 2017 and 2018.

John Trotter, the Trustee overseeing the $ 13.5 billion settlement, now continues with an action that targets a litany of former executives and directors.

The list includes two of the former CEOs of PG&E, Anthony Earley and Geisha Williams, who were paid millions of dollars during their reign. The company is now run by former Michigan utility executive Patricia Poppe, who is overseen by a board of directors that was reshuffled in the bankruptcy of PG&E.

PG&E did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Associated Press news agency.

PG&E works on power lines to repair damage caused by the campfire in Paradise, Calif. November 21, 2018 [File: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters]

The forest fire victims’ lawsuit seeks to tap into the $ 200 million to $ 400 million liability insurance that PG&E has secured for former executives and board members, said Frank Pitre, the lawyer responsible for the case. He told the AP he hopes to resolve the lawsuit within the next year to help victims of the wildfires who are still struggling to rebuild their lives.

If the lawsuit is successful, it could help offset a shortfall of around $ 1 billion that the trust of wildfire victims currently faces, as half of the promised settlement was a PG&E settlement that is currently worth less than what had been hoped for when the deal was made. struck towards the end of 2019.

Trotter acknowledged the problem in a January 26 letter to victims of the wildfires – many of whom had refused to agree to the terms of a settlement that required half of the $ 13.5 billion pledged to be in stock in a society with a history of neglect.

But none of the PG&E shares have so far been sold by the trust, leaving time for the stock to rebound.

The PG&E share price hovered around $ 11.30 on Wednesday. Shares have fluctuated from a low of $ 3.55 to $ 25.19 over the past two tumultuous years. “I am still optimistic that we will get to the goal” for the PG&E title, Pitre told the AP.


The complaint against the former managers and board members of PG&E aims to link them to acts for which the public service has already agreed.

This includes the business plead guilty to 84 counts manslaughter for causing a wildfire in 2018 that destroyed the town of Paradise, Calif., as well as the surrounding area. PG&E was fined $ 4 million in this case, the maximum penalty allowed.

“If there ever was a company that deserved to go to jail, it’s PG&E,” Butte County Judge Michael Deems said at the time of the public service conviction eight months ago.

Deems’ conviction is included in the trial of wildfire victims as well as in fierce criticism from U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who oversees PG&E probation in another criminal case stemming from the public service’s negligence of natural gas that blew up an entire neighborhood in a San Francisco Bay Area suburb in 2010.

PG&E President Chris Johns speaks at a press conference the day after a natural gas transmission line ruptured, causing an explosion and fire that destroyed dozens of homes and killed at least four people in San Bruno, California on September 10, 2010 [File: Ramin Rahimian/Reuters]

Alsup has repeatedly torn PG&E apart for failing to do more to maintain its power lines in recent years, including in a court hearing earlier this month cited in the victims’ trial.

“PG&E has been a TERROR, TERROR, to the people of California,” Alsup said at the Feb. 3 hearing.

Pitre said it was time to retain the people hired to manage and oversee the business responsible for PG&E’s recklessness. “We are talking about a massive dereliction of duty.”

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