Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric (“PG&E”) on behalf of the family of Ernest Francis “Ernie” Foss, beloved father and musician, who was killed in the November 2018 Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in modern California history. The lawsuit alleges that the Camp Fire was started by unsafe electrical infrastructure owned, operated, and (improperly) maintained by PG&E.
Starting just before sunrise on November 8th near the town of Pulga, the Camp Fire razed more than 150,000 acres across parts of Butte and Plumas Counties, destroying nearly 14,000 homes, hundreds of businesses, and at least 88 lives. Among the victims of the Camp Fire tragedy was Ernie Foss. The Camp Fire ravaged Ernie’s home, destroying his real and personal property and ultimately claiming his life as he tried to escape the Fire’s path.
“The catastrophic damage and loss of life caused by the Camp Fire was preventable,” noted Lieff Cabraser partner Robert J. Nelson, who represents Angela Loo and Brendan Foss, the children of Ernie Foss and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “PG&E’s failing infrastructure and its inadequate efforts to maintain its equipment and mitigate risk have caused tragedy before, and PG&E has been sanctioned a number of times for virtually identical misconduct.”
“Despite notice of its past failures and even public reprimand, PG&E has continued to cut corners and put profits over safety,” observed Elizabeth J. Cabraser, founding partner of Lieff Cabraser and another of the Foss family’s attorneys in the lawsuit. “PG&E continued to operate dangerous equipment without adequate risk management controls in place, and the Camp Fire is only the latest consequence of PG&E’s improper and, tragically, deadly conduct.”
As the Complaint alleges, PG&E had a duty to properly maintain its electrical infrastructure to ensure its safe operation, including by adequately designing, constructing, monitoring, maintaining, operating, repairing, replacing, and/or improving its power lines, poles, transformers, conductors, insulators, reclosers, and/or other electrical equipment. This duty included inspecting and managing vegetation around its power lines and/or other electrical equipment given the foreseeable risk of such vegetation coming into contact with this equipment and starting fires.
The Complaint further alleges that even though PG&E knew that its infrastructure was aging, unsafe, and vulnerable to weather and environmental conditions, it failed to fulfill these duties, and failed to take preventative measures in the face of known high-risk weather conditions, such as de-energizing its electrical equipment. PG&E’s failures and negligent practices ultimately resulted in the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.
Born on May 4, 1955, Ernest Francis “Ernie” Foss was a single father to three loving children, with a lifelong passion for music. A studio musician by trade, Ernie also performed alongside famous musical talent, including the bands Jefferson Airplane, Santana, and Hot Tuna. Shortly after Pacific Bell Park (now AT&T Park) opened in San Francisco, Ernie performed the National Anthem a capella to the entire stadium.
About ten years ago, Ernie left San Francisco and made a new home for himself in the town of Paradise, California. Ernie lived in Paradise, California in a home on Edgewood Lane with Andrew Burt, his stepson, and Bernice, a dog he adopted from a local animal shelter. On or around November 8, 2018, Ernie perished attempting to escape the fast-approaching flames of the Camp Fire. Rescue workers found his body outside his home near his wheelchair, not far from his minivan outside his home. Bernice’s remains were found alongside him. Andrew Burt also died in the fire in an apparent attempt to help Ernie escape.
“We are still devastated by dad’s death, the way it happened, and the horror of his being trapped by the fire,” notes plaintiff Angela Foss Loo. “That the lives of people like him and Andrew, and of dad’s dog Bernice, could take second place to PG&E adding to their profits, it’s just awful.”
“While the scale of the Camp Fire is almost beyond belief, the horror and loss experienced by Ernie Foss’ family is all too believable,” added Lexi Hazam, another Lieff Cabraser partner representing the plaintiffs. “It drives home the human cost of PG&E’s failures, and the inherent wrongness of PG&E putting profits ahead of the lives of its customers.”
The lawsuit asserts claims for wrongful death, negligence, trespass, inverse condemnation, private and public nuisance, premises liability, and violations of the California Public Utilities and Health & Safety Codes and seeks general damages, loss of earnings and earning capacity, funeral and other wrongful death and survivorship damages, 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.
Lexi J. Hazam
Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP