Former executives of utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric have reached a $117 million settlement in connection with the 2017 North Bay fires and the 2018 Campfire, officials said.
The former officers and directors were sued by a victims’ trust that claimed the deadly fires were the direct result of the former officers’ actions and the trust announced on Thursday that the settlement had been finalized in San Francisco Superior Court.
A dozen fires swept through Northern California in October 2017 and were started by downed power lines belonging to PG&E, according to Cal Fire. The fires raged through California’s wine country, including Napa, Sonoma, Humboldt, Butte and Mendocino counties and killed 19 people.
A year later, the Camp Fire was started in Butte County by faulty electrical equipment operated by PG&E, authorities said. The fire decimated several communities, including the town of Paradise. A total of 85 people died in the blaze, making it the deadliest blaze in state history, authorities said.
PG&E filed for bankruptcy in 2019 after announcing a $13.5 billion settlement with fire victims and their families. The PG&E Fire Victim Trust was created after the deal as part of the utility company’s Chapter 11 reorganization plan.
Last year, the trust sued 20 former PG&E officers and directors, claiming they were directly responsible for the fires because of their failure to fulfill their fiduciary duties to act in the utility company’s best interests.
California Public Utilities Commission investigators found there were systemic issues with PG&E’s monitoring of the nearly 100-year-old power line that started the camp fire. PG&E took over the power line in 1930, according to a December 2019 report.
PG&E pleaded guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter in federal court for the fire.
The lawsuit filed by the trust sought to hold the former executives responsible for failing to properly maintain vegetation around electrical equipment and for failing to install power-cutting equipment at the time of the 2017 fire. argues that the utility company failed to properly update the 100-year-old equipment in relation to the campfire.
As part of its bankruptcy plan, PG&E has authorized the Fire Victims’ Trust to pursue all claims held by the utility company, including against its former directors and officers, that the company says it suffered in connection with wildfires, the trust said in a press release.
The settlement was finalized in July and the utility company is expected to submit its approval in court Thursday, according to attorney Frank Pitre, who is the trust’s lead attorney in that lawsuit. Pitre is also a member of the trust’s supervisory committee.
“These funds will be used to satisfy the vast majority of outstanding fire victim claims held by certain federal agencies that helped fight the fires and provide victim assistance,” Pitre said in a statement.
This funding will go to agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, state agencies and other groups that have helped victims of home fires, Pitre said, which the trust is required to pay in under the bankruptcy plan.
“With the vast majority of this settlement with the federal agencies satisfied, the Trust is well on its way to being able to use all future net recoveries from the assigned claims to benefit other fire victims,” Pitre said.
In a written statement, PG&E called the agreement “another step forward in PG&E’s ongoing efforts to resolve outstanding issues from before its bankruptcy and to move forward by focusing on our commitments to provide energy safe, clean and reliable to our customers, and to continue the important work of reducing risk in our energy system.”