Panish Shea & Boyle LLP has joined forces with the law firms of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy LLP, Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger and Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood Campora, LLP to investigate and prosecute claims of negligence against Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE) as a result of the Camp Fire in Butte County and the Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, respectively.
Together, this consortium of law firms has recovered hundreds of millions of dollars for thousands of fire victims who have suffered total property loss or the loss of a loved one. Attorneys currently serve in leadership roles as Plaintiffs’ Co-Lead Counsel and on the Executive Committee in the Southern California Fire Cases against SCE arising from the 2017 Thomas Fire and subsequent debris flows in Montecito, as well as in the North Bay Fires litigation against Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) following the October 2017 firestorm in Northern California.
Beginning on November 8, 2018, the Camp Fire ignited near Pulga, California and quickly spread throughout Butte County, burning more than 153,000 acres and demolishing the Northern California town of Paradise as tens-of-thousands of residents were forced to flee their homes to escape the firestorm. At least 80 people have been killed and over 15,000 homes and structures destroyed as authorities continue to search for the hundreds of people who remain missing as a result of the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history.
On the same day, in an unincorporated area south of Simi Valley, California, the Woolsey Fire ignited and quickly spread throughout Ventura and Los Angeles counties. Nearly 97,000 acres have burned, including 83 percent of all National Parks Service land in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, and the fire has led to the deaths of at least three people, three injured firefighters and the destruction of over 1,500 homes and structures. The coastal community of Malibu, and the businesses that thrived in the surrounding hillsides, have been destroyed by the Woolsey Fire and the impact will be felt in the years to come.
The cause of the Camp Fire and the Woolsey Fire is under investigation by state regulators and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has said it’s looking into the possibility that both fires were sparked by electrical equipment – an indication that investigators are considering Pacific Gas & Electric (“PG&E”) and its equipment as the point of origin for the Camp Fire and Southern California Edison (SCE) and its equipment as the point of origin for the Woolsey Fire.
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 Camp Fire and the Woolsey Fire remains unknown, both PG&E and SCE have a history of noncompliance with state law by failing to do its due diligence to reduce the potential risk of wildfire.
In 2017, CAL Fire investigative reports linked PG&E to at least 16 wildfires in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Humboldt, Butte and Lake counties during the October firestorm including the Sulphur, Blue, Norrbom, Partrick, Pythian, Adobe, Pocket and Atlas which were referred to the appropriate county’s District Attorneys’ offices for further review due to evidence of alleged violations of state law. Many of these North Bay Fires were caused by trees coming into contact with electric power and distribution lines, conductors and the failure of power poles associated with PG&E.
Additionally, SCE issued a press release in October 2018 stating the utility believes its electrical equipment was associated with one of at least two origin points for the 2017 Thomas Fire that devastated Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and resulted in subsequent deadly debris flows in Montecito, California. In 2007, SCE was held accountable for its role in the Malibu Canyon Fire which was ignited by power lines that toppled during strong Santa Ana winds and burned 3,836 acres, destroyed 36 vehicles and 14 structures, damaged 19 others and injured three firefighters. In 2009, SCE was also found to have violated laws and regulations in operations of its power equipment which resulted in the Cottonwood Fire that burned 2,409 acres east of Hemet, California. The utility company’s power equipment had malfunctioned, causing heated material to ignite dry vegetation on the forest floor.
While the process of recovering compensation for damages sustained as a result of the Camp Fire and the Woolsey Fire may be long, the consortium of law firms have the resources to see the matter to conclusion. Their combined experience includes prosecution of wildland and wildfires caused by a utilities power lines, with attorneys specializing in wrongful death, catastrophic injury and property damage litigation. Companies like Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison must be held accountable for their actions.