Fire Victim Trust Sues California Utility Executives for Causing Wildfires

February 24, 2021

The Fire Victim Trust has filed a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court against certain former officers and directors of PG&E Corp. and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for their role in causing the catastrophic 2017 North Bay Fires and the 2018 Camp Fire.

The Fire Victim Trust retained the right to bring suit as part of the 2020 settlement between the fire victims and PG&E.

The lawsuit, John Trotter, Trustee of the PG&E Fire Victim Trust v. Lewis Chew, et al., San Francisco Superior, alleges that the wildfires were a direct result of the defendants’ breach of their fiduciary duties to act in the best interests of PG&E. The North Bay Fires and Camp Fire killed over 100 people, injured many more, and damaged or destroyed tens of thousands of homes.

“It is our duty to hold accountable the prior officers and directors who grossly neglected to do their jobs in the lead-up to the North Bay Fires and the Camp Fire. These individuals had the responsibility to customers, employees, shareholders, and the public to ensure that safety was one of PG&E’s highest priorities. They had the power to do so. Yet they failed, at enormous financial cost to the company and indescribable cost to entire Northern California communities,” Hon. Justice John K. Trotter (ret.), trustee of the FVT, said in a statement. “In my role as the individual appointed by the court to oversee the compensation of Fire Victims, I have a legal and ethical obligation to ensure they receive every dollar they are entitled to,” said Justice Trotter.

The Complaint alleges the following circumstances leading to the 2017 North Bay Fires and the 2018 Camp Fire:

  • At the time of the North Bay Fires, the defendants had not installed and implemented a power shutoff system as was used by other utilities. This system was needed because, after years of PG&E failing to maintain a vegetation management program, in windy weather trees were making contact with the distribution lines and causing fires. By 2017, PG&E was six years behind on its vegetation management program, and the only way to prevent fires was to shut the power off. In addition to lacking such a system and not keeping vegetation properly trimmed and maintained, defendants also failed to take other measures to prevent wildfire risks.
  • The Camp Fire was the result of defendants’ failure to ensure that aging equipment was detected and replaced as part of PG&E’s transmission inspection program. Specifically, a “C -hook” mounted on a transmission tower that was more than 100 years old failed which ignited a fire.

The Fire Victim Trust seeks monetary damages, and injunctive or declaratory relief necessary to reform PG&E’s corporate governance.

In addition to Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP, the FVT is represented by co-counsel Bottini & Bottini Inc.; Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger; Dreyer, Babich, Bucchola, Wood, Campora LLP; and Corey, Luzaich, De Ghetaldi & Riddle LLP.


Topics Lawsuits California Catastrophe Natural Disasters Wildfire

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