Pacific Gas and Electric said Tuesday it would amend court papers filed a week ago that partially blamed residents for losses they suffered in the September 2010 San Bruno fire.
• PG&E filed a court document that listed a litany of possible defenses to future lawsuits over losses in the San Bruno fire caused by a gas pipe explosion.
• The filing asserted that a third party may be to blame for the explosion and that the victims’ own negligence may be partially to blame for their losses.
• San Bruno residents were outraged after reading about the utility company’s claims.
• PG&E amended the filing and issued a statement saying they do not blame the victims and that earlier cash payouts came “with no strings attached.”
• The “comparative negligence” language remains in the filing, however, so the utility could use it to try to lessen the amount they must pay to victims.
PG&E filed court documents last week claiming that it should not have to pay victims who filed lawsuits because the explosion and fire was caused by third-party damage to the gas pipeline, according to a July 12 report in the San Francisco Chronicle.
The court filing also claimed that the payments PG&E has already made to some residents meant their lawsuits were invalidated “in whole or in part.”
The utility did pay some residents $15,000 to $50,000 after the blast, but it said at the time that those payments would have no bearing on damages awarded in future lawsuits.
San Bruno City Manager Connie Jackson said she was shocked by PG&E’s court filing.
“It’s unfortunate that they have thrown everything plus the kitchen sink in this, to cover their legal strategy,” Jackson said.
PG&E downplayed the filing, calling it “a standard part of the legal process,” but residents of the neighborhood were outraged. Most of their homes were destroyed and eight people were killed as a result of that gas pipeline explosion.
The filing did not respond to allegations of specific lawsuits, but issued a litany of possible defenses PG&E might use at trial.
Following a firestorm of negative media reports on Tuesday, PG&E moved into damage-control mode, according to a July 13 report in the Chronicle.
The utility amended its court filing and issued a statement assuring that “no one at PG&E would suggest that the plaintiffs or residents of San Bruno impacted by this accident are somehow at fault for the tragedy.”
The amended court filing states that PG&E “does not blame the plaintiffs and residents who have been affected by this terrible accident.”
It also states that the $15,000 to $50,000 cash payouts issued following the disaster were given with no strings attached.
“Residents who received financial assistance from PG&E after the accident will not be asked to repay those funds or to forego the right to pursue legal claims for damages,” the statement said. “We gave our word at the time that this assistance came with no strings attached. We stand by that pledge.”
The amended filing added language to clarify the utility company’s public position but it did not remove language that could at least partially blame residents for their own losses. At issue is the assertion of “comparative negligence,” which could possibly reduce the amount of money PG&E has to pay victims if their own negligence contributed to their injuries or losses.
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the disaster.
The trial attorneys at Blackman Legal Group, a California-based law firm founded by renowned trial attorney Clifford Blackman, have been representing injury victims since 1976, and have special expertise in cases involving wrongful death. The nationwide toll-free number to call for a free consultation is 1-866-692-8126.