PG & E Corp. is so emaciated that it will not commit to paying settlements that have been reached with people who have lost their homes in a wildfire in 2015 caused by a tree that falls on a high-voltage line.
The disclosure by a lawyer for the utility giant was cautiously greeted by a judge of the state during a questioning Thursday in Sacramento. He refused PG & E's request, in the light of his plan to file for bankruptcy this month, to postpone a trial in April against compensation from the Butte Fire that destroyed 70,000 hectares and destroyed almost 500 homes.
The fire in September 2015 in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada caused modest damage compared to the fire in Northern California in the PG & E service area in 2017 and 2018, which together killed more than 100 people, destroyed dozens of thousands of homes and have burned hundreds of thousands of hectares.
Financial uncertainty of no less than $ 30 billion in forest fires in 2017 and 2018 has created a state of "limbo" in which PG & E can not commit to settlements previously achieved, said Kristin Bird, a lawyer for the company.
PG & E is in "a way to save resources," Bird told Superior Judge Allen Sumner. "We are not in the position to tell someone whether they are paid or how much is being paid."
Steve Campora, who handled cases with PG & E at the fire of 2015, said that the company's claim that it is victims and the rebuilding of communities is the height of hypocrisy & # 39; is if it is not willing to stick to its settlements. Property owners have litigated the case for three years and have reached a settlement. "And now you can not tell them whether they will be paid?" He said.
Bird told Sumner that the company has settled with about 2,800 complainers or 1,500 households in the case. The process that was set on 1 April concerns non-resolved claims with a further 150 households.
PG & E has paid insurance claims of nearly $ 1 billion from the Butte Fire and represents approximately $ 75 million in unresolved claims, according to attorneys representing victims. One of those lawyers, Amanda Riddle, said that PG & E refuses to say whether it will honor 11 of its settlements.
"PG & E continues to be more concerned with the remuneration of its executives and investors than with the victims who have suffered so badly because of the company's recklessness," Riddle said.
Sumner has asked PG & E to confirm by January 22 whether it will honor the outstanding settlements.
PG & E said it plans to file for bankruptcy around January 29. According to federal law, the filing would automatically suspend thousands of claims filed by victims of fires in California courts. Criminal and regulatory measures can advance.
"The bankruptcy has not been filed," Sumner said at the hearing, adding that until that time "this court has the jurisdiction." The judge planned a February 4 hearing in the case, adding that he "fully informed that by then the authority of this court may have become a pumpkin." But if PG & E does not file, we need something on the calendar have standing. "
Bird declined to comment after the hearing and PG & E did not respond immediately to an e-mail that was looking for comments.
Copyright 2019 Bloomberg.
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