Wildfire victims sue former PG&E executives alleging neglect

SAN RAMON, CALIFORNIA (AP) — A trust representing more than 80,000 victims of deadly wildfires ignited by Pacific Gas and Electric’s rickety electrical grid is suing nearly two dozen of the utility’s former executives and board members, alleging they neglected their duty to ensure the equipment wouldn’t kill people.

The complaint filed on Wednesday in San Francisco Superior Court is an offshoot of a USD13.5 billion settlement that PG&E reached with the wildfire victims while the utility was mired in bankruptcy from January 2019 through June last year.

As part of that deal, PG&E granted the victims the right to go after the utility’s hierarchy leading up to and during a series of wind-driven wildfires that killed more than 100 people and destroyed more than 25,000 homes and businesses in Northern California in 2017 and 2018.

John Trotter, the trustee overseeing the USD13.5 billion settlement, is now following through with an action that targets a litany of former executives and board members.

The list includes two of PG&E’s former chief executives, Anthony Earley and Geisha Williams, who were paid millions of dollars during their reigns. The company is now being run by a former Michigan utility executive, Patricia Poppe, with a board of directors that was overhauled during PG&E’s bankruptcy case.

PG&E acknowledged the lawsuit without commenting directly on the allegations. “We remain focussed on reducing wildfire risk across our service area and making our electric system more resilient to the climate-driven challenges we all face in California,” the company said in a statement.

The wildfire victims’ lawsuit is seeking to tap into the USD200 million to USD400 million in liability insurance that PG&E secured for the former executives and board members, said Frank Pitre, the lawyer handling the case. He told The Associated Press that he hopes to resolve the lawsuit within the next year to help wildfire victims still struggling to rebuild their lives.

A row of chimneys stand in a neighbourhood devastated by the Tubbs fire near Santa Rosa, California. PHOTO: AP