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When Could an Electric Company Be Liable for a Wildfire?

It is a known fact that weather conditions are a major factor in the spread of wildfires. It is also true that lightning is the origin of many fires in California. However, about 90 percent of all wildfires are caused by human activity – including electric company activity. Your family may have grounds to file a liability lawsuit against an electric company in California if it caused or contributed to the wildfire that affected you. Learn more about liability by discussing your case with an attorney at Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger.

What Is an Electric Company’s Duty of Care?

Electric and other utility companies in California have a duty of care, or legal obligation, to act in a manner that is prudent and reasonable based on the circumstances. When it comes to preventing wildfires, electric companies have a responsibility to avoid and prevent foreseeable fire risks. This responsibility comes with special legal requirements under California state law. Failing to meet the duty of care is called negligence. Electric company negligence associated with wildfires takes many forms:

  • Ignoring federal and state fire safety regulations.
  • Improperly installing electric and gas equipment.
  • Failing to safety-test equipment for high wind conditions.
  • Using untrained or unqualified employees.
  • Failing to remove trees, brush and vegetation that surround electrical equipment.
  • Failing to inspect powerlines and equipment regularly.
  • Ignoring equipment repair and replacement necessities.
  • Failing to replace old or damaged power poles.
  • Failing to update wooden power poles to steel towers.

If an investigation finds evidence that an electric company committed any of these careless acts or otherwise fell short of the duty of care, the electric company may be liable for a resultant wildfire under the legal doctrine of negligence. If another party in the same position as the electric company would have done something differently to prevent the wildfire, the company may be held liable for damages.

Electric Companies Have a History of Starting California Wildfires

Electric companies have been behind some of the worst fires in California’s history. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), for example, has a pattern of placing profits over people. PG&E has been at the center of a vast number of wildfire lawsuits for company negligence. Our map of PG&E wildfire incidents illustrates how devastating the electric company’s mistakes have been for California citizens. Some of the largest fires that have been traced back to the fault of an electric company are:

  • The Thomas Fire. In 2017, the Thomas Fire was started by construction under Southern California Edison that ignited dry vegetation. Two lives were lost in the fire itself. Then, tragically, related mudslides killed an additional 21 people.
  • The Tubbs Fire. This wildfire in Napa and Sonoma Counties destroyed more than 5,600 structures and killed 22 people. An investigation concluded that PG&E was to blame for the fire due to issues with electrical equipment located on private property
  • The Camp Fire. The Camp Fire is the deadliest wildfire in California’s history, with 85 deaths. PG&E was found to be at fault for this 2018 wildfire, which was caused by a 100-year-old power pole that should have been replaced.

These are only three examples of virtually thousands of wildfires in California that have been started by the careless and irresponsible actions of electric companies. If an investigation confirms that an electric company is to blame for a wildfire, even in part, the company may be liable for related injuries, deaths and property damage. 

When Is an Electric Company Liable for a Wildfire?

If you or your wildfire attorney file a negligence-based claim against an electric company in California, your side of the case has the burden of proof. This is the legal standard by which you must prove your case. In a negligence suit, your lawyer must provide enough clear evidence to convince a jury that the defendant acted unreasonably and that this more likely than not caused the losses in question. 

Only with enough evidence of negligence will your wildfire claim against an electric company succeed and result in financial compensation. The burden of proof always rests with the plaintiff in a personal injury or property damage claim. Your lawsuit may not require proof of negligence, however, if you are eligible for an inverse condemnation claim instead.

What Is Inverse Condemnation and How Does it Impact Wildfire Lawsuits?

Inverse condemnation is a legal rule that allows you to file a lawsuit against a privately owned or publicly owned utility company that damages your property while using it for the benefit of the public. If a powerline or another piece of equipment owned by an electric company caused a wildfire that damaged your land, for example, this law entitles you to just compensation for the value of the damaged or destroyed property. 

Filing an inverse condemnation claim means that you can hold an electric company liable without needing proof of fault. These lawsuits use the doctrine of strict liability, which holds a defendant responsible whether or not they were negligent. The inverse condemnation rule states that these lawsuits can be brought in the absence of fault and even if the wildfire damage was not foreseeable. To find out if you have grounds for this type of lawsuit, consult with our attorneys.

About PG&E’s Bankruptcy

If you believe you have grounds for a wildfire claim against PG&E, do not let news of the company’s bankruptcy stop you from filing a lawsuit. The conclusion of PG&E’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing led to the creation of the Fire Victim Trust, which can provide financial compensation for the economic and noneconomic losses that victims have suffered in fires caused by this electric company. Our team at Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger can represent individuals who are eligible to file claims through this Trust.

Contact Us for Assistance 

If you or a loved one was recently impacted by a wildfire in California, contact our law firm to request a free consultation with our wildfire attorneys. We can review your case, give you the most up-to-date information on the specific wildfire that affected you, investigate for signs of fault and help you go up against an electric company in pursuit of fair financial compensation for your losses. We will stand by your family through every phase of the legal process in pursuit of justice. 

Our Dixie Fire lawsuit attorneys are passionate about holding electric companies accountable for the devastating wildfires that they cause. Find out if you have a case today by calling (415) 889-2919.