Tubbs Fire Trial Set for January 2020

Published On: October 1, 2019

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Teri Jackson said this week that the upcoming trial regarding PG&E’s role in the 2017 Tubbs Fire is set to last eight weeks and will likely have one jury weighing all the issues involved in the proceedings.

Judge Jackson said jurors should be in place by January 9, 2020, two days after the trial start date she originally set at an earlier hearing. The trial will be split into phases, first focusing on whether PG&E is responsible for the 2017 Santa Rosa-area wildfire and subsequently transitioning into the harm claimed by specific victims, followed by consideration of any punitive damages.

CalFire investigators in January announced that a private property owner’s electrical system — not one controlled by PG&E — started the Tubbs Fire, which destroyed more than 5,600 structures and killed about two dozen people. But fire victims’ attorneys say the state’s conclusion was incorrect, and they convinced PG&E’s bankruptcy judge to let them quickly try a group of Tubbs Fire plaintiffs’ cases in state court.

Now the San Francisco court and attorneys on both sides are working out the details of how the trial will work. The result could impact how much money PG&E pays to wildfire victims and how the company resolves its bankruptcy case.

In other PG&E news this week, the utility was criticized for mounting attorney fees that have so far exceeded $140 million, prompting a trustee in the case and a consumer group to question why lawyers have tallied so many billable hours when the utility has yet to compensate many wildfire victims. We don’t expect this narrative to go away.

Also this week, PG&E announced that they have agreed to pay $65 million and implement a series of system reforms to settle an investigation from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) who said the company repeatedly falsified internal records about its underground infrastructure.

About the Author: Jesus Arredondo

Jesus Arredondo is an Energy Industry Analyst and former State of California official. He can be reached at jesus at govreport.org