At a press conference in Chico, California, Wildfire Victim Advocates attorneys at Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP, Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy LLP, Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood Campora, LLP, and Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger announced the first filing in a series of lawsuits against PG&E Corporation and Pacific Gas & Electric Company that seek to compensate victims and recoup monies spent by the utility giant for misleading advertising expenditures.
“If PG&E had spent their monopolistic profits on infrastructure upgrades instead of promoting a false image of safety, this incident would never have happened,” said Frank M. Pitre of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP.
Filed in Butte County Superior Court, these are the first and only cases filed that directly challenge PG&E for misleading over 16 million customers that safety is its first priority. The first complaint was filed on behalf of Lila Williams, 93, and Louise Howell, 67, who while fleeing for her life to escape the intense blaze of the Camp Fire on November 8, 2018, was forced to abandon her car and seek refuge underwater in Lake Concow to stay alive. The second complaint was filed by Chardonnay Telly, who lost her father, Richard Brown, fondly referred to by friends and neighbors as the “Mayor of Concow.”
The Complaints “seeks not only to recover damages for the Plaintiffs, but also to: (1) stop PG&E officers and directors from spending the company’s monopolistic profits and ratepayer assessments on advertising to promote a false and misleading picture of safety surrounding their operations; and (2) recoup all monies spent by PG&E for advertising to promote their false image of safety since September 9, 2010.”
As the Complaints allege, PG&E diverts “necessary safety related expenditures into funding corporate bonuses, boosting shareholder profits, and fueling advertising campaigns” that are untrue and mislead the public into a false sense of security regarding PG&E’s ability to safely deliver power, all while ignoring the serious and irreparable nature of the public safety threat posed by its aging infrastructure and ineffective vegetation management practices. As a result, “the people of the State of California have paid for corporate greed with the lives of their loved ones, their homes, and their most cherished belongings.”
This diversion of funds and “abdication of responsibility for assessing the effectiveness of their risk management practices to prevent catastrophic wildfires is exacerbated by the fact” that PG&E has long been on notice that its risk management programs are ineffective and that its infrastructure is aging, which has led to several horrible and irreparable fires over the past decade in Northern California and six-felony criminal convictions, for which PG&E is currently on probation, but still “choose[s] to ignore the lessons learned.”
“After the tragedy of October 2017 in wine country, we watched PG&E blanket the airwaves on a daily basis for 14 months, advertising that they were interested in the safety of their customers and the prevention of wildfires,” said Michael Kelly of Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger. “All of that money spent on advertising should have been spent on prevention.”