SAN FRANCISCO–(BUSINESSWIRE)–Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein and Edelson PC have filed a class action lawsuit in California Superior Court in San Francisco against Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) for the devastating property damage, economic losses, and disruption to their homes, businesses, and livelihoods caused by the Camp wildfire (“Camp Fire”), started on November 8 by unsafe electrical infrastructure in Butte County owned, operated, and maintained by PG&E. The fire virtually leveled the town of Paradise, destroying nearly 14,000 homes and causing at least 88 deaths and many injuries.
Plaintiffs Kevin Burnett and Leslie Moore; Darwin Crabtree and Sandra Crabtree; Joseph Garfield; Robert Eldridge; and Benjamin Greenwald d/b/a Greenwald Pest Defense, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, allege in their class action complaint that despite PG&E’s knowledge that electrical infrastructure was aging, unsafe, and vulnerable to environmental conditions, PG&E failed to take action that could have prevented the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history. By the time the fire was finally contained on November 25th, more than 150,000 acres (230 square miles) had been decimated – an area about five times the size of San Francisco.
The Camp Fire, Most Destructive Wildfire in CA History: Large-Scale Evacuations, Lives, Homes, and Businesses Lost
In November 2018, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history razed more than 150,000 acres across Butte and Plumas Counties, destroying homes, businesses, and lives. The Camp Fire started just before sunrise on November 8th near the town of Pulga. It moved rapidly west, virtually leveling the town of Paradise, with at least 88 lives lost, countless others injured, and 25 people still missing, as of the date of this filing. It also completely destroyed nearly 14,000 homes and hundreds of commercial buildings, along with everything in them.
Tens of thousands of people, including Plaintiffs and the Class, are now displaced from their homes, many forced to live in shelters, tents, or their cars. They are left not knowing where they will sleep, when they will have a roof over their heads again, or whether they will be able to rebuild their lives.
“This is a disaster of a scale unprecedented in California,” said Elizabeth Cabraser, counsel for the plaintiffs and the class. “And with the information alleged in the complaint, that the fire was started by unsafe PG&E equipment, it becomes a tragedy that could have, and should have, been avoided had PG&E done their legal duty of safely operating and maintaining their power infrastructure.”
“We intend to prove that PG&E was well aware that its substandard and neglected infrastructure could cause devastation on this scale. There is simply no excuse for PG&E’s conscious disregard for the lives and rights of our neighbors in the Butte County community, and the members of this plaintiff class must be compensated swiftly and fairly so that they can begin the monumental task of rebuilding their lives,” said Rafey S. Balabanian, Edelson PC’s Managing Partner. “While our complaint alleges that PG&E has failed to make necessary improvements after facing similar legal action multiple times in the past, it is our hope that this time the company will finally change its practices, and that a tragedy like the Camp Fire can never happen again.”
California law mandates that PG&E and other utilities properly maintain their electrical infrastructure to ensure safe operation, including by adequately designing, constructing, monitoring, maintaining, operating, repairing, replacing, and/or improving power lines, poles, transformers, conductors, insulators, reclosers, and/or other electrical equipment. This duty includes inspecting and managing vegetation around power lines and/or other electrical equipment, given the foreseeable risk of such vegetation coming into contact with the equipment and thereby starting fires.
“Despite knowledge that its infrastructure was aging, unsafe, and vulnerable to weather and environmental conditions, PG&E failed to fulfill these duties, and failed to take preventative measures in the face of known, high-risk weather conditions to mitigate the risk of fire, including by de-energizing its electrical equipment,” notes Lieff Cabraser partner Lexi Hazam, who also represents the plaintiffs in the case. “PG&E’s failures here led to the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.”
Catastrophic Damage and Loss Allegations in the Complaint
As alleged in the Complaint, the catastrophic damage and extraordinary loss of life of the Camp Fire could have been prevented. Indeed, PG&E’s failing infrastructure and its inadequate efforts to maintain its equipment and mitigate risk have resulted in numerous previous tragedies, and PG&E has been sanctioned multiple times for virtually identical misconduct. As the Complaint further alleges, despite notice of its past failures and even in the face of public reprimand, PG&E has continued to cut corners and put profits over safety, and continued to operate dangerous equipment without adequate risk management controls in place.
“After a difficult and terrifying evacuation, we found out our home had been completely destroyed by the fire,” said Kevin Burnett “The stress, the loss, are almost more than we can bear, and to then learn PG&E’s equipment likely caused the fire, we just feel broken. I just lost thirty-five years of my life. Everything I worked for since I moved to California went up in smoke.”
“Beyond the terrible loss of life and destruction of homes, this fire has destroyed hundreds of businesses and cost thousands of people their jobs and livelihoods,” notes plaintiff Benjamin Greenwald, who suffered damage and losses from the fire. “It will take years for these businesses to return, if they can even ever reestablish themselves in these communities.”
The Complaint provides comprehensive detail on how PG&E caused Plaintiffs and the Class to suffer devastating property damage, personal and economic losses, and disruption to their homes, businesses, livelihoods, and wellbeing. The lawsuit includes claims for negligence, inverse condemnation, trespass, private nuisance, premises liability, negligent interference with prospective economic advantage, violations of the California Public Utilities Code, and violations of the California Health & Safety Code, and seeks damages and compensation for the costs of repair, depreciation, and/or replacement of damaged and destroyed personal and real property, lost wages, earning capacity, and business profits, double or treble damages for wrongful injuries to timber, trees, and underwood, and general and punitive damages.
About Lieff Cabraser
Lieff Cabraser serves on the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee in the lawsuit relating to the 2017 Wine Country fires and as Co-Lead Counsel in lawsuits over the 2017-2018 Southern California wildfires and mudslides that brought extraordinary devastation to individuals and communities in their wake. Our firm has a long history of successfully championing the rights of those injured or who have lost property and businesses as a result of fires and other environmental disasters. Over the last 45 years, we have assisted our clients in recovering over $118 billion in verdicts and settlements. Our firm helped lead litigation against BP over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil spill, successfully representing property owners, business owners, wage earners, and other harmed parties. Lieff Cabraser was also appointed by the court to lead litigation on behalf of homeowners, businesses and employees who suffered economic injuries relating to 2015 Plains pipeline oil spill in Santa Barbara, and also helps lead two class action cases on behalf of homeowners and businesses who suffered losses from the 2015-2016 Porter Ranch gas leak in Southern California.
About Edelson PC
Edelson PC is a national leader in plaintiffs’ class, mass, and governmental actions. Law360 has called the firm a “Titan of the Plaintiffs Bar,” a “Plaintiffs Class Action Powerhouse,” and one of the “Consumer Protection Practice Groups of the Year” for 2017 and 2018. Edelson is leading nationwide litigation on behalf of thousands of former NCAA athletes suffering from the long term health effects of concussions. Edelson is also representing dozens of cities, along with other entities, in litigation stemming from the opioid crisis. Edelson successfully restored billions of dollars in credit lines for homeowners who suffered during the mortgage crisis. Edelson is based in Northern California and Illinois. www.edelson.com.
Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP
275 Battery Street, Suite 2900
San Francisco, California 94111
Rafey S. Balabanian
123 Townsend Street, Suite 100
San Francisco, California 94107