Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog
California Wildfire

Lieff Cabraser Files Lawsuit Against Southern California Edison for Losses and Damages Arising from the 2018 Woolsey Fire

Los Angeles—(BUSINESSWIRE)—On December 20, 2018, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court on behalf of Los Angeles residents Lisa Brown, Mirjam Kostichek, Malibu resident Anthony Stearns d/b/a Radfish Malibu against Southern California Edison Company and Edison International (“Edison”) for negligence, trespass, inverse condemnation and the violation of the California Public Utilities and Health and Safety codes in relation to the 2018 Woolsey Fire that ravaged over 96,000 acres in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties in November of 2018. The fire, one of the largest and most destructive in Los Angeles history, tore through Malibu as well as parts of the San Fernando Valley neighborhood of West Hills and is alleged to have been started by equipment owned and controlled by SoCal Edison near its Chatsworth substation.

“The Woolsey Fire is only the latest in a long run of devastating fires caused by unsafe electrical infrastructure owned, operated, and improperly maintained by Southern California Edison Company and Edison International,” states Lieff Cabraser partner Lexi J. Hazam, one of the lawyers who filed the suit.

“My home was all but destroyed,” said Mirjam Kositchek, one of the plaintiffs named in the suit. “Southern California Edison repeatedly failed to properly assess the risks of its equipment, and failed to safely maintain that equipment. A utility-caused fire is not a ‘natural disaster,’ it’s an improper maintenance fire, a greed fire. The unanticipated emotional duress I am continuing to suffer is a direct result of the Woolsey Fire.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are individuals and businesses who suffered property damage and economic losses as a result of the Woolsey Fire. As noted in the Complaint, the fire ultimately destroyed or damaged more than 1,600 homes and buildings, caused at least three deaths, and forced the evacuation of 295,000 people from the affected areas.

The Complaint alleges that two days before the Woolsey Fire, Edison had activated its emergency operations center and advised customers that it could proactively shut off power as a safety measure due to what the National Weather Service had advised were gusty winds, low humidity, and “critically dry fuels,” including brush and vegetation that could lead to any fire’s rapid spread. Despite this knowledge and these conditions, Edison failed to de-energize its lines. The utility also admitted that its Big Rock 16 kV circuit out of the Chatsworth substation, “relayed,” or sensed a disturbance, on the circuit just two minutes before Cal Fire said the Woolsey Fire began.

As the Complaint continues to detail, about one month later, Edison released a public statement and submitted a supplemental letter to Cal Fire acknowledging equipment failures in greater detail near the suspected origin of the Woolsey Fire. As the Complaint concludes, Edison caused this fire, unique in terms of its size and speed, which made it difficult to contain and resulted in it becoming “the biggest fire event” in Los Angeles history.

“Edison’s violations have caused fires before, and Edison has been sanctioned numerous times for these kinds of violations before the Woolsey Fire began,” states Robert J. Nelson, another Lieff Cabraser partner representing the plaintiffs. “Edison knowingly and habitually underestimated the potential fire risk its systems posed. Had Edison acted responsibly, the Woolsey Fire could have been prevented.”

“It’s devastating to have a lifetime of memories destroyed,” noted plaintiff Lisa Brown. “That it could have been prevented makes it even more heartbreaking.”

The lawsuit states multiple causes of action including negligence, public and private nuisance, and premises liability and trespass, as well as violation of the California Public Utilities Code and California Health & Safety Code, and seeks punitive and exemplary damages including double or treble damages for wrongful injuries to timber, trees, and/or underwood on plaintiffs’ property.

A copy of the filed Woolsey Fire Complaint will be posted shortly.

About Lieff Cabraser

Lieff Cabraser serves as Co-Lead Counsel in lawsuits over the 2017-2018 Southern California wildfires and mudslides and on the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee in the lawsuit relating to the 2017 Wine Country fires 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.

Source/Contact

Lexi J. Hazam
LIEFF CABRASER HEIMANN & BERNSTEIN, LLP
415 956-1000
lhazam@lchb.com