Lead attorney Gerald Singleton filed the complaint on Tuesday despite an admittedly low-level of evidence. Singleton said about the complaint, “The only evidence we have at this point is that if they are properly configured and maintained, a tree should never be in a position to fall on a line.”
A team of San Diego-based attorneys filed a lawsuit in Calaveras County Superior Court in Northern California blaming utilities giant Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) for a massive wildfire that began three weeks ago. The fire, which continues to blaze despite containment efforts, has already killed two people, destroyed 475 homes, and has scorched 110 square miles of territory. Last week, President Obama declared the zone to be a federal disaster area. Cal Fire authorities believe the fire will be contained of the by the end of the day Oct. 1. Two of the fire’s victims Brian Moeller and Jolene Stewart, represented by the Singleton Law Firm, allege that PG&E and its contracted servicer, Trees Inc. did not properly maintain a power line or the vegetation that surrounded it. PG&E has publicly stated that a downed power line may be the cause of the blaze, although no official cause has been cited as yet. Several other California firms have also announced their intent to sue in the coming days.
Lead attorney Gerald Singleton filed the complaint on Tuesday despite an admittedly low-level of evidence. Singleton said about the complaint, “The only evidence we have at this point is that if they are properly configured and maintained, a tree should never be in a position to fall on a line.” Moeller and Stewart, who are renters and are not insured, are seeking financial compensation for their loss of personal property, lost wages, along with other expenses. Singleton represented the largest group of plaintiffs in a 2007 lawsuit against San Diego Gas & Electric, who was held responsible for a massive wildfire that consumed 300,000 acres, or 20 percent of San Diego County. The Butte fire began on September 9th in Amador County, rapidly spreading to over 70,000 acres in nearby territory. The Butte fire and its spinoff Valley fire have created the seventh-largest fire disaster in California history.
Singleton explained the filing prior to an official determination of the cause, saying “Given the situation our clients were in and the likelihood that PG&E caused it, we just didn’t want to wait.” Singleton added that his plaintiffs lost everything in the fire, “So we need to get them compensated as soon as possible.” Another possible rationale is that other firms, including a group of five attorneys led by John and Steven Airola, as well as another group calling itself ButteFireLawyers.com have also descended on the area, conducting meetings and distributing flyers. Although fellow Singleton team member Michael Feinberg said in a phone interview Tuesday evening, “We will specifically file individual actions on behalf of all our clients,” he added, we will not file a class action under any circumstances.”
PG&E officials have cooperated with fire officials in the investigation, with corporate relations specialist Lynsey Paulo saying in a statement, “We are going to continue supporting our customers and working with our first responder partners and the State of California to improve fire safety and fire response. We want to reassure our customers that we at PG&E take the risk of wildfires very seriously and are focused on doing everything possible to mitigate the risk of fire during this drought.” PG&E is no stranger to paying damages related to California disasters. The company was hit a record fine of $1.6 billion by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in April over a 2010 pipeline explosion that killed eight people, including a CPUC staff member and her 13 year-old daughter, as well as leveling 38 buildings. The company was also the subject of a $330 million settlement in 1996, over a 1993 suit led by former law clerk and current celebrity activist Erin Brockovich for leaking chemicals into the water supply of the Southern California town of Hinckley. That case became the basis for the award-winning 2000 film entitled “Erin Brockovich.” Brockovich recently spoke out against a similar chemical spill caused by EPA workers and private contractors in an abandon chemical mine that has contaminated the major water supply of the Navajo Nation.
Calaveras Enterprise – Travis Taborek
KCRA Sacramento – Gamaliel Ortiz
The Union Democrat (Sonora County) – Guy McCarthy