Panish Shea & Boyle LLP has joined forces with the law firms of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy LLP, and Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger to investigate claims of negligence against Southern California Edison (SCE) that have led to the deaths of at least 23 people, the displacement of tens-of-thousands more, and the destruction of over 1,300 homes and structures as a result of the Thomas Fire and subsequent mudslides in Montecito, California.
Beginning on December 4, 2017, the Thomas Fire wreaked havoc in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties as it burned more than 280,000 acres, making it the most destructive wildfire in California’s history. Two people were killed, including a firefighter, and over 1,063 homes and structures were destroyed before the firestorm was fully contained and evacuations were lifted.
Six weeks after the Thomas Fire began, these communities were devastated once again as torrential rains poured down charred hillsides resulting in deadly flash floods and mudslides. Water, mud and debris invaded neighborhoods in the early hours of January 9, destroying 128 homes, damaging hundreds more, and claiming the lives at least 21 residents in the community of Montecito – the cause of death of each victim identified by the Santa Barbara County Coroner’s Office as “multiple traumatic injures due to flash flood with mudslides due to recent wildfire.” Two people remain missing as rescue and recovery crews continue to work around the clock in the wake of these disasters.
Fires caused by the failure of power lines and poorly maintained equipment owned and operated by utility companies regularly ranks among the top sources of wildfires throughout California. While the cause of the Thomas Fire remains unknown and is being investigated by California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL Fire), other fire agencies and the California Public Utilities Commission, Southern California Edison acknowledged in a press release that the utility “believes the investigations now include the possible role of its facilities” and “continues to cooperate with the investigations.”
“There are systemic problems with utility companies in California that fail to adhere to their own policies and in my experience, Southern California Edison is no different,” says Brian Panish, who serves as co-lead trial counsel in litigation against SoCalGas for more than 7,000 victims impacted by the 2015 Aliso Canyon Gas Blowout in Porter Ranch. “Time and time again, California residents suffer the consequences of disasters resulting from a utility’s diminished standard of care. We must hold these companies accountable for putting their profits over the safety of the people they serve.”
Photo Credit: Forest Service Photo by Stuart Palley