Lawyers in California have filed the first class action over a deadly wildfire that killed 88 people and destroyed 14,000 buildings last month.
The suit, filed on Wednesday in San Francisco Superior Court, alleges that Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s failure to maintain its electrical equipment caused the Camp Fire that charred through 150,000 acres. The class action, which notes that the California utility company has at least $1.4 billion in wildfire insurance, seeks economic damages for individuals who lost homes, personal property and income due to the wildfire.
“This is a disaster of a scale unprecedented in California,” said Elizabeth Cabraser of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, who filed the case alongside Chicago’s Edelson PC. Lieff Cabraser, based in San Francisco, was on the plaintiffs’ executive committee in lawsuits brought against PG&E over a series of wildfires in California’s wine region last year.
“With the information alleged in the complaint, that the fire was started by unsafe PG&E equipment, it becomes a tragedy that could have, and should have, been avoided had PG&E done their legal duty of safely operating and maintaining their power infrastructure,” Cabraser added.
For PG&E’s part, spokeswoman Melissa Subbotin said in an emailed statement that customer and community safety were the company’s “highest priority.”
“The cause of the Camp Fire is still under investigation. We are aware of lawsuits regarding the Camp Fire. Right now, our focus is on assessing infrastructure, safely restoring power where possible, and helping our customers recover and rebuild,” Subbotin added.
The suit isn’t the first brought over the Camp Fire or another wildfire that destroyed 500 structures in Southern California last month. Most of those cases haven’t been class actions but individual plaintiffs alleging damages or wrongful death claims.
Residents of four homes and one business destroyed by the Camp Fire filed Wednesday’s class action, which brings negligence, inverse condemnation, private and public nuisance and premises liability claims, along with other allegations.
It asks to certify an “economic and property damages class” of an estimated tens of thousands of individuals and businesses with various types of damages, including loss of income, real and personal property, and costs associated with evacuations.