We see families walking around the areas where their homes once stood, but are now reduced to rubble due to wildfires. Many more people were injured or lost their lives due to the devastating wildfires that seemingly had no end. When an incident like this occurs, who is blamed in the aftermath? As a result of the wildfires that started just a few months ago and became a huge disaster for many across the state, lawsuits have been filed against California utility companies. It has been contended that crews working in the woods were the likely cause of the fire.
The San Francisco wildfires have actually prompted tougher rules for utility companies. The sad fact of the matter is that there are expectations of more fires to come under the extreme issue of climate change, which means that utility companies must take steps to keep power lines clear of tree branches and other types of brush to prevent the spark of flames. State officials understand and “accept that the scope of the problem is changing” in a state where the “fire season” threatens to follow throughout the entirety of the year.
Fire officials are looking into the roles of the utility companies that may have caused the fires based on their role in bad power line rules. From one simple overlooked issue, a wildfire began that took the lives of over 40 people and caused more than $9 billion in property damage. PG&E, the specific utility company that is under scrutiny and being blamed for the fires, cooperated with regulators in developing tough rules that could fix the issue in its tracks.
Utilities can actually be held liable under inverse condemnation laws, which act as claims of negligence when it has been determined that their role may have started a fire beyond a reasonable doubt. The President of PG&E told investors in a conference call, “California is one of the only states in the country where the courts have applied inverse condemnation liability to events caused by utility equipment,” which are laws put in place to protect those who lost everything to a fire that could have been prevented, or were injured in the events. Though PG&E disagrees with inverse condemnation, they are now facing suits from various people who have been affected by the fires.
PG&E is fully aware that, if its equipment is found to be the substantial cause of damage in the wildfire event, the utility may still be liable for property damage and attorney’s fees associated with the fires – even if the utility company has followed all safety rules to a T. These adverse events sometimes occur, but companies must own up to the devastation that still could have been prevented. The wildfires, which happened in October, caused over $9.4 billion in residential and commercial claims for individuals and businesses, with 21,000 homes damaged and 2,800 businesses. The lawsuits state that there was a violation of public safety laws and overall negligence.
With PG&E falling in stocks and facing possible liability for the fire, many who will have to rebuild from nothing or who have lost loved ones, await new information that will help them start recovery.