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Suing for Fires Caused by Electric Utility Equipment

Investigations into the cause of last year’s devastating Camp Fire in and around Paradise, California, have focused on equipment owned and operated by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), a large utility company. The fire, the deadliest in California’s history, may have been started after the failure of a hook supporting components of a 100-year old transposition tower. The hook may have broken due to unusually high winds. In previous wind events, PG&E had shut off power to lines that it believed were at risk of wind damage, but in this case they chose leave the power running. Although the Camp Fire took place in California, it carries important lessons for residents of Nevada who could face a similar disaster.

When human error causes a major disaster, litigation often follows. Claims for property damage, loss of life, and impacts to health are all common. Litigation relating to a large fire caused by a utility’s equipment invariably involves a complex mix of parties: the utility itself, its insurers, government, individuals, and businesses of every size may all take part. In the midst of the flurry of legal activity that goes on, an individual who has suffered losses needs to focus on protecting his or her best interests against the competing voices.

The fact that electrical lines can cause fires is well understood. Depending on local conditions, a fire can have widespread, severe effects. As a consequence, utilities have an obligation to continuously inspect and maintain their lines. Lines need to be built and maintained to account for foreseeable weather conditions, like high winds or ice storms. Every utility expends significant effort to inspect its lines for potential problems.

Despite those efforts, problems can go undetected or, worse, detected problems can be left unaddressed until it’s too late. A lawsuit against a utility for fire-related damages typically asserts that the utility has committed one or more acts of negligence by failing to comply with its obligation to keep its equipment in reasonably safe condition. There are a number of challenges that such a suit will need to overcome:

  • Establishing that the utility’s negligence was the legal cause of the fire itself.
  • Proving that the damages claimed in the lawsuit were the result of the negligence and not due to an intervening cause, such as a lack of adequate fire exits in a building.
  • Collecting on a successful judgement or settlement award against a large number of competing claimants.

An individual who has suffered significant losses in a fire caused by a utility’s negligence should consult with an attorney as soon as possible. The utility will likely offer quick settlement payments to individuals in the hopes that they will accept the quick cash instead of pursuing the full amount of what they are owed. Whether this first offer should be accepted needs to be weighed in light of the case’s full potential.

For over 45 years the attorneys at Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez have represented clients in personal injury, wrongful death, and other similar cases. If you or a loved one has suffered significant injuries in a fire, call today for a free attorney consultation at 702-388-4476 or request a call through our website.