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Northern California Wildfire Legal Updates

June 8, 2018

Press Conference on Cal Fire Report & PG&E Negligence

In the video below, one of our Wildfire Victim Advocate Consortium partners, Frank Pitre, leads a press conference discussing Friday’s Cal Fire report on the causes of 12 of the 2017 Northern California wildfires and speaks in detail regarding the directly related PG&E negligence.

June 8, 2018

Additional Cal Fire Reports Released – PG&E Blamed for 12 Nor-Cal Wildfires

Cal Fire announced today “after extensive and thorough investigations” that 12 of the Northern California Wildfires were caused by “electric power and distribution lines, conductors and the failure of power poles.” The 12 fires referred to in the report are the Redwood, Sulphur, Cherokee, Blue, Norrbom, Adobe, Partrick, Pythian, Nuns, Pocket, Atlas and “37” Fire in Sonoma County. The report goes into detail regarding the cause of each fire.

Cal Fire investigations will continue and additional reports will be released as they are compiled. The report on the Tubbs Fire, one of the most devastating, is still forthcoming. California state senator, Jerry Hill, who represents San Bruno, where the PG&E explosion killed eight, had already stated intention to break up the utility if Cal Fire blames the North Bay wildfires on PG&E negligence.

PG&E issued a press release in response to Cal Fire’s announcement, saying that the company still maintains that its “overall programs met our state’s high standards.” They also referred in the release to a “new normal” that requires new solutions. PG&E has already been the focus on more than 100 lawsuits related to the fires and some are speculating whether the utility can withstand the financial hit, if held responsible for additional fires, such as the Tubbs fire.

According to the report, Cal Fire’s investigations have been referred to the appropriate county District Attorney’s offices for review.

Read the Cal Fire report here.

May 25, 2018

First Cal Fire Reports Released – Sonoma & Napa County Expected Soon

Cal Fire released a report today that found PG&E power lines were responsible for four Northern California wildfires in Butte and Nevada Counties last October. Investigations into three of those four fires found evidence that PG&E had violated Public Resources Code Section 4293 and may be held criminally liable for its failure to manage vegetation in proximity of the power lines they manage.

No official causes have been announced in the contemporaneous fires that devastated the North Bay region yet, including the Atlas, Tubbs, Nuns, Redwood Valley, Cascade, Sulphur and Pocket fires. Cal Fire is likely to announce those officials reports in the coming weeks. Like the Butte and Nevada County fires, many clues suggest that PG&E power lines and other equipment buffeted by heavy winds also caused or contributed to the most costly fire storm in California history.

On October 8, during a wind storm where gusts hit hurricane levels, several fires kicked up throughout the North Bay Region. More than 40 people died, hundreds were burned or injured, thousands were displaced, and over 10,000 homes and structures were lost. Soon after the fire, it became clear that there was no singular or dominant cause, and that it would take time to complete the investigation. But even in those early days, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that “power lines, like the ones laying amid burned braches and grass at some of the suspected origin points in Napa and Sonoma counties, can start fires in a variety of ways.”

Later, in February, The Press Democrat reported that “Santa Rosa city fire investigators have determined that PG&E power lines buffeted by heavy winds the night of Oct. 8 ignited at least two small fires in city neighborhoods”, and that “the fire damage to the site was a direct result of the high winds causing the power lines to arc, starting a fire in the combustible vegetation.” In March, the San Francisco Chronicle further reported that, “in the months since the fires erupted, no evidence has emerged in public pointing to any explanation other than power lines swaying, arcing and falling in the wind.”

Although a source for the fires in Sonoma and Napa Counties have not been announced yet, the likelihood that PG&E equipment and procedural failures caused most or all of the fires prompted thousands of lawsuits that have been consolidated into a coordinated litigation led by our firm, Walkup Melodia Kelly & Schoenberger, and the Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy LLP and Robins Cloud LLP lawfirms. PG&E has a past history of failing to properly maintain its equipment, and siphoning away money from maintenance into profits. We suspect that PG&E is responsible for these fires, and we will know soon what Cal Fire determines caused them.

Click here to read the Cal Fire News Release

May 25, 2018

Liability Discovery Efforts Underway

Walkup Melodia, in association with our consortium partners, Abbey, Weitzenberg, et. al., Cotchett, Pitre, & McCarthy LLP, Panish Shea & Boyle LLP, Dreyer Babich Buccuola Wood Campora LLP, have started the process of obtaining information from PG&E through the discovery process. We have sent deposition notices and requests for production of documents and electronically stored information that we expect to contain millions of pages related to PG&E’s compliance and safety record. These records will show the degree with which PG&E complies with state liability law, published vegetation management plans and programs, and their own internal safety guidelines. Simultaneously, our experts and investigators are inspecting physical evidence collected in connection with the fires, and we are hard at work evaluating the impact and losses suffered by North Bay residents and businesses.

May 24, 2018

PG&E’s Bid to Avoid Inverse Condemnation Liability Rejected

On May 22, 2018, Superior Court Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow, the San Francisco-based trial judge overseeing the coordinated California North Bay Fires litigation, rejected PG&E’s plea to drop inverse condemnation liability claims – an important step on the path to fair compensation under constitutionally protected eminent domain principals.

PG&E’s lawyers argued that, “regardless of [even the] most egregious fault . . . unless PG&E has an absolute insurance policy from the CPUC, and is absolutely 100% guaranteed reimbursements, [victims] cannot have inverse condemnation.” However, the judge concluded that “it is not arbitrary or irrational to require a privately owned utility, which has been granted a monopoly or quasi-monopoly status by the state and which is authorized to pass its costs to its ratepayers upon satisfying a prudent manager standard, to pay property owners for the damages caused by its instrumentalities.”

Order Overruling PG&E’s Demurrers: Click here to read the court order.

March 29, 2018

PG&E Execs Get Millions In Bonuses While Seeking To Pay Homeowners Nothing

In mid-March we learned that PG&E was engaged in an expensive and comprehensive “backroom politics” campaign lobbying California state legislators to change current liability laws to immunize PG&E from responsibility in the North Bay firestorms. PG&E is seeking financial immunity from the state legislature, a change in the law of inverse condemnation, and the creation of liability hurdles to make it impossible for homeowners to be made whole.

The California Constitution provides that where a public utility takes property without just compensation, it is liable under the doctrine of inverse condemnation. PG&E is seeking to overturn that law.

PG&E went to Sacramento and floated an analogy to legislators that “if a drunk driver hits a utility pole, and the utility wire drops to the ground and starts a fire, then PG&E is unfairly liable for inverse condemnation”. That false premise struck a sympathetic chord with some legislators. But the analogy is wrong.

Although final reports of investigative agencies have not yet been issued, it is clear that the North Bay fires did not happen as the result of a drunk driver. The truth is that PG&E did not follow its own internal guidelines for line maintenance, recloser performance, vegetation management, and a host of other safety-related mandates. PG&E failed in its obligation to be safe.

Read More…

March 13, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO: Wildfire Victim Advocates Attorneys Michael Kelly & Frank Pitre Named Co-Lead Counsel In California North Bay Fires Litigation

Wildfire Victim Advocates legal group proudly announces attorneys Michael Kelly of Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger and Frank Pitre of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy LLP have been named as Co-Lead Counsel, representing thousands of individual plaintiffs filing lawsuits against Pacific Gas & Electric Company and PG&E Corporation as a result of the North Bay Fires. The appointment was made following the first case management hearing in San Francisco Superior Court on Tuesday, February 27 and signed by Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow on March 6, 2018.

“It is an honor to be placed in a position of such responsibility,” said Kelly. “The damage, loss and harm our friends and neighbors have endured as a result of the North Bay Fires has been catastrophic and we’re ready to get to work, moving the claims for damage from all of the PG&E originated fires to resolution. Our goal is justice for the victims and the survivors.”

Serving as Co-Lead Counsel with Kelly and Pitre is Bill Robins III of Robins Cloud LLP. Together, these three head a team of more than 30 firms who will be responsible for overseeing and coordinating all pretrial activities in the complex litigation, including the briefing, filing and arguing of motions, taking all discovery, as well as appearing before the court at all court ordered proceedings and presenting cases at trial for the individual plaintiffs.

Attorney Khaldoun Baghdadi with Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger and Wildfire Victim Advocates was also appointed to serve as Plaintiffs’ Co-Liaison Counsel along with Amy Eskin of Levin Simes LLP and Steven Skikos of Skikos, Crawford, Skikos & Joseph LLP. Their responsibilities include receiving and distributing orders, notices and correspondence from the court to plaintiffs’ counsel, as well as maintain and make available a complete set of all filed pleadings and orders filed and/or served in the coordinated proceedings.

In addition, Wildfire Victim Advocates attorneys Brian Panish and Rahul Ravipudi of Panish Shea & Boyle LLP, Steve Campora of Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood Campora LLP as well as Brendan M. Kunkle and Michael Green of Abbey, Weitzenberg, Warren & Emery have been named members of the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee. Members of this committee will, along with other responsibilities, coordinate pretrial activities and work performed by lead counsel and liaison counsel as well as call meetings and consult with individual Plaintiffs’ counsel on matters of common concern.

The North Bay Fires started when electrical equipment owned and maintained by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) came into contact with vegetation and/or other equipment owned and maintained by the utility, all because of PG&E’s alleged disregard of mandated safety practices and the foreseeable risks associated with failure to reasonably manage its infrastructure. As a result of the North Bay Fires, at least 43 people were killed, many others injured, more than 14,700 homes were destroyed and over 245,000 acres burned throughout California’s Wine County.

The Judicial Council Coordination Proceeding is being heard in the Superior Court of California, County of San Francisco. (California North Bay Fire Cases (JCCP No. 4955))

If you or someone you love has been affected by the North Bay Fires – including the Tubbs, Atlas, Nuns, Oakmont, Adobe, Norrbom, Partrick, Redwood, Pressley, Sulphur and Pocket fires – please call our Wildfire Victim Advocates attorneys at (707) 658-4415 to schedule a free consultation and discuss your legal options.

Residents of Northern California, Including Santa Rosa, Napa, Sonoma & Calistoga

We are already representing clients throughout the fire ravaged counties. With our local partners in Santa Rosa the Walkup Law Firm Fire Litigation Team has filed lawsuits against Pacific Gas & Electric for injuries, damages and losses that have occurred in Sonoma County, Napa County, Solano County, Lake County and Mendocino County. The Walkup Wildfire Legal Team is representing victims who suffered personal injury, wrongful death, and substantial real property losses.

By Order dated January 4, 2018, all filed cases will be consolidated in a San Francisco Superior Court Judicial Council Coordinated proceeding (click here to read the court order). This includes all cases for clients who lost homes, businesses, ranchland, and undeveloped real property in Calistoga, Kenwood, Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Napa, Solano County, Mendocino, Lake County, Fountain Grove, Coffee Park and unincorporated areas throughout Napa County.

The Walkup Fire team represents, and/or has filed lawsuits on behalf of, clients who sustained burn injuries in the Tubbs Fire, Nuns Fire (includes Adobe, Norrbom, Pressley, Partrick, and Oakmont fires), Atlas Fire, Potter/Redwood Fire, Sulphur Fire, and Helena/Fork Fire. We have also filed wrongful death cases and we represent the survivors of people who died in the fires.

Beyond fire related injury and wrongful death lawsuits, we are honored to have been retained by property owners to recover on their behalf for emotional distress and uninsured financial losses to homes, wineries, growing crops, business structures, landscape, ranchland, and significant historic trees.

We are representing property owners who have lost property in the Tubbs Fire, Nuns Fire, Atlas Fire, Potter/Redwood Fire, Sulphur Fire, and Helena/Fork Fire.

Our team is working with clients to maximize their insurance policy recoveries while also advising them on dealing with issues surrounding the process of rebuilding or relocating, depending upon their needs.

If you, a friend or a family member, have sustained significant losses from the terrible October 2017 wildfires in Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties which will not be covered by insurance for such things as increased costs of construction, uncovered cost of rebuilding, uncovered losses of personal property, including items of special sentimental value, lost business opportunities, lost wages, and other financial losses, call the Northern California Wildfire Litigation Team at Walkup Melodia. Our team of lawyers is headed by managing partner Michael A. Kelly, partners Khaldoun Baghdadi, Doris Cheng, and Sara Peters and associate Andrew McDevitt, together with a supporting crew of dedicated paralegals and legal assistants.

We have a 60 year history of professionally serving our clients throughout the bay area. Our lawyers are consistently ranked by neutral rating services as the best of the best-check our ratings on BestLawyers.com and SuperLawyers.com. We recommend that potential clients check with lawyers and judges in Napa, Sonoma, Marin and San Francisco. Ask about our history track record ethics and integrity. Ask about our superior record of recovering money for our clients. Check out what our clients say about our professionalism and dedication on YELP. We are confident that clients who ask for referrals or confirmation from local lawyers and judges will be encouraged to work with our team.

LITIGATION UPDATES ON SELECTED WILDFIRES

Tubbs Fire Litigation Update
Atlas Peak Fire Litigation Update
Nuns Fire Litigation Update

WALKUP MELODIA MAP of PG&E INCIDENTS

WHY WALKUP MELODIA IS THE RIGHT FIRM FOR THESE CASES

When selecting a law firm to represent yourself and your family, you should choose a firm with experience, integrity and track record of success. The Walkup fire trial team has all those qualities. Members of the Walkup firm have close ties to the Sonoma and Napa valleys, with firm members and family members who have themselves sustained fire related losses in the October 2017 conflagration. We understand the issues that are confronting survivors including shock, vulnerability, emotional distress, loss of priceless personal property, loss of homes and businesses.

We have dealt with and sued insurance companies for more than 50 years. We have litigated against PG&E for more than 50 years. We understand the issues involved in preparing and trying cases that involve utility-caused electrical fires. We have been practicing in Northern California for more than half a century years and plan to be here for another 100 years. We understand the special relationship between attorney and client, and that for many clients the emotional distress that they have suffered as a result of their fire losses is more significant than the property losses.

Our initial consultation is free. We have structured our contingent legal fees to be lower than the majority of other firms advertising on radio or TV for clients.

If we cannot help you, or if we do not feel that you have a case we will tell you that. We will not file claims that do not have merit and we will not file claims on behalf of clients we do not believe will benefit from legal representation. Our ultimate goal is to try and restore our clients lives back to the condition they were in on October 7, 2017.

We understand how insurers think. We understand how to maximize your recovery.

Contact us online or call our firm at (415) 981-7210 for a free consultation with an attorney experienced in burn injury litigation.

“They were sensitive to our needs, professional in every manner, considerate, knowledgable, responsive, and quick to resolve our case out of court as well as secured a healthy settlement for us.” – Keith R.


Giving and Resources:

UndocuFund: http://undocufund.org/donate/

North Bay Fire Relief: https://www.redwoodcu.org/northbayfirerelief

Rebuild Wine Country: https://www.rebuildwinecountry.org/

Rebuild North Bay: https://www.rebuildnorthbay.org/

Salvation Army: http://deloro.salvationarmy.org/

 

NAPA

The Napa Valley Community Foundation: click here.

American Red Cross Wildfire Relief Fund: click here.

 

SONOMA

Community Foundation of Sonoma: click here.

SHARE Emergency Housing: click here.

Sonoma County Animal Services: click here.

 

SANTA ROSA

You Caring – Tubbs Fire Victims: click here.

BREAKING:  The Walkup Fire Team is also representing victims of the Thomas Fire and mudslides in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

More On Northern California Wildfire Legal Updates

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