Camp Fire victims gauging their rights, losses

Camp Fire victims gauging their rights, losses

Photo Credits: JEREMY DANG / AGGIE

Lawsuits against PG&E for misleading ads

Lawsuits have been filed against The Pacific Gas and Electric Company for misleading the public on their claim of safety as a priority due to recent fires. So far, four California law firms have filed lawsuits on behalf of campfire victims to challenge PG&E’s false ads concerning customer safety.

One of the law firms involved in the cases, Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger, represents some of those victims. Khaldoun Baghdadi, a shareholder and partner of the law firm in San Francisco, explained how they got involved.

“We are one of the lead counsels in the north bay fires,” Baghdadi said. “A lot of clients also have friends or relatives in the campfire litigation or tragedy, and given that we were already actively involved with the fire cases, felt that it was natural to get more involved.”

Frank Pitre of Cotchett, Pitre, & McCarthy suggested that PG&E could have prevented threats to safety if they spent their profits on prevention rather than promoting ads.

“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,” Pitre said to Business Wire.

One of the complaints considers more than just damages to victims, according to a Camp Fire press conference.The complainant also seeks to “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,” and to “recoup all monies spent by PG&E for advertising to promote their false image of safety since September 9, 2010.”

Baghdadi elaborated on how much loss people faced due to these fires.

“It depends on the circumstance, some people were severely injured [and] some people were killed — others lost their homes and property value,” Baghdadi said. “The typical measure of what the damages are would be the difference from the amount of whatever their insurance company pays them for property damage along with whatever emotional distress they could recover if they actually leave the fire. It’s a pretty broad category of damages depending on the specific person and their specific circumstances. It’s an enormous amount of harms and losses.”

People didn’t just lose their lives or their property. Another claim in the lawsuit was that PG&E had misleading advertising without considering public safety.

“One of the claims in our lawsuit was that while PG&E was engaged in an advertising campaign to convince people, but in reality little has changed in terms of the culture of safety,” Baghdadi said. “The culture requires real change — that’s still in effect until this day, as shown through the current federal prosecution of PG&E.”

The California Public Utilities Commission assessed PG&E’s adequate safety resources starting in Aug. 27, 2015, with an open investigation.

“While PG&E is committed to safety and efforts have been made to reduce incidents and increase the organizational focus on safety, these efforts have been somewhat reactionary — driven by immediate needs and an understandable sense of urgency, rather than a comprehensive enterprise-wide approach to addressing safety,” the assessment reads. “PG&E moved quickly to address the issues with its gas system surfaced by San Bruno, but was slower in addressing its safety culture.”

Baghdadi noted that PG&E cannot gloss over its past any longer because people are getting hurt.

“I think the bottom line here is that there is a number of people who paid their bills, tried to raise a family and did nothing wrong, and are now displaced or injured because a company chose to ignore the lessons of the past,” Baghdadi said.

Written by: Stella Tran — city@theaggie.org