The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (“CAL FIRE”) has determined that power lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas & Electric Company (“PG&E”) caused the 2021 Dixie Fire. CAL FIRE’s investigation found that the Dixie Fire started when a tree made contact with one of PG&E’s electrical distribution lines on July 13, 2021. CAL FIRE sent its investigative report to the Butte County District Attorney’s office to determine whether criminal charges against PG&E are warranted.
Numerous suits filed by several hundred plaintiffs have been coordinated into a single complex case (JCCP 5208). This Coordinated Proceeding has been assigned to the Plumas County Superior Court; the presiding judge of the Court will then appoint a judge to hold a hearing and then make a recommendation to the Judicial Counsel on Complex Proceedings as to where the case should be heard. Singleton Schreiber filed two complaints on behalf of over 200 plaintiffs on September 14, 2021, see San Francisco County complaint and Shasta County complaint, and subsequently filed the JCCP petition that will be heard by the Plumas County Superior Court.
CAL FIRE’s finding is significant, as it means that PG&E likely will be found liable for inverse condemnation. This will allow plaintiffs to recover numerous economic damages, including real property and personal property damages. While we still need to prove that PG&E was negligent in order to recover those damages not available under the inverse condemnation cause of action (including economic damages like personal injury and lost wages, and non-economic damages like pain-and-suffering, emotional distress, and mental anguish), this finding by California’s lead fire investigation agency is an important first step.
Review CAL FIRE’S press release here.