Los Angeles, California, February 5, 2019 – – A group of law firms filed a lawsuit today against Southern California Edison (SCE) and The Boeing Company on behalf of more than 100 property owners and renters whose buildings and property were damaged or destroyed in Woolsey Fire that started on Nov. 8, 2018. The case is the first known to name Boeing because of its alleged role in the Woolsey Fire.
California wildfire attorneys Diane Marger Moore, Michael L. Baum, Ronald L. M. Goldman, Brian R. Strange, Brianna Strange, and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court (case no. 19STCV03419) today. Brian Strange, his daughter Brianna Strange, Michael Baum and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. are all Malibu locals who initially decided to take on the Woolsey Fire litigation to help friends and neighbors. In the months since the fire, more and more victims have joined the litigation.
The law firms of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, P.C., Strange & Butler LLP, Nix Patterson LLP, Crowley Norman LLP and distinguished environmental lawyer, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., represent the plaintiffs. Southern California Edison, its parent company, Edison International, and The Boeing Company are named as defendants.
Another group of distinguished lawyers filed a lawsuit against Boeing and SCE shortly after we did on behalf of 65 property owners or renters and on behalf of three businesses including, Coral Beach Cantina II, Global Prospect Investments, LLC and Malibu Vineyards. The three firms representing these plaintiffs are McNulty Law Firm, Levin Papantonio Thomas Mitchell Rafferty & Proctor, PA and Gray & White Law.
The Woolsey Fire burned nearly 100,000 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, destroyed 1,500 structures, and required the evacuation of more than 250,000 people. Three people died in the fire and three firefighters sustained injuries.
“Southern California Edison’s history of igniting cataclysmic fires is not, as the company maintains, a parade of bad luck,” says renowned environmental attorney, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., co-counsel to Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman.
“Edison’s corporate culture reliably places corporate profits ahead of public safety, ignoring the fire dangers engendered by its business activities. The Woolsey Fire was not just foreseeable or predictable, it was inevitable. SCE and Boeing’s failure to prevent this disaster was reckless misconduct.”
Lawsuit Claims SCE, Edison International, and Boeing Failed to Prevent Deadly Fire
The lawsuit makes negligence, inverse condemnation, trespass, nuisance and other allegations against SCE and Boeing.
According to the complaint, Southern California Edison’s overhead electrical equipment ignited the Woolsey Fire at the Boeing-owned Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL). Once sparked, the lawsuit claims, Boeing’s lack of proper vegetation management and fire-fighting services failed to contain the fire and contributed to its spread.
Adding to the outrage, is the fact that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) authorized SCE and other utilities to temporarily shut down power grids in high fire-threat areas to prevent wildfires but SCE chose not to follow this informed recommendation. On Nov. 6, 2018, the National Weather Service issued a “Red Flag Warning” for Los Angeles and Ventura Counties warning of dangerous fire weather beginning on the morning of Nov. 8, 2018. This advance warning was given two days before the Woolsey Fire started.
In response to the warning, SCE activated its Emergency Operations Center and began its 48-hour notification program to government officials, emergency management agencies, fire chiefs and customers in Agoura Hills, Agoura, Chatsworth, Malibu, Simi Valley and other areas saying that “due to updated meteorological forecasts of dangerous high winds in designated Red Flag high risk fire areas, SCE has now determined “that approximately 27,000 customers are being notified today of possible power shut-offs in portions of these communities[.]”
However, despite knowing and acknowledging that the risk of a fire starting in the area was significant, and even despite alerting customers and officials of the need to shut off power in the interest of public safety, Southern California Edison chose not to shut off its circuits, which caused the Woolsey Fire.
“This was a totally preventable tragedy,” said Diane Marger Moore, one of the most experienced fire trial lawyers in the country. “Once the fire started, proper vegetation management and a well trained and equipped fire suppression unit on the Boeing property may have been able to prevent the rapid spread of the fire.”
Under California law, utilities are required to ensure that equipment is operated in a safe manner at all times. Part of that responsibility includes inspecting and cutting back overgrown or dangerous plants in the areas near and around its equipment.
The CPUC specifically recognizes that Southern California utility companies are required to conduct more frequent inspections because of “the history of catastrophic power line fires” and “the Santa Ana windstorms that increase the risk of powerline ignited fires in Southern California.”
Boeing’s Private Fire Fighting Force was Missing During Start of Woolsey Fire
Boeing became the primary owner of the Rocketdyne/Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) in 1996. The site was home to what has been called “America’s worst nuclear meltdown” and remediation and cleanup efforts are still supposed to be ongoing in the area. As part of its ownership and operation of the SSFL, Boeing was to provide fire protection and firefighting services for the property.
Despite maintaining its own fire department specifically trained to protect the area from fire risk and the spread of wildfires, Boeing’s fire department was seemingly absent, adding to the issue of insufficient supplies of water.
According to the lawsuit, all the defendants knew of the dangerous conditions in the area that eventually resulted in the Woolsey Fire, but recklessly and with careless and conscious disregard to human life and safety, ignored the substantial risk of fire and fire spread.
The property owners and lessors seek damages for personal injury, loss of home and/or personal property, loss of business property or equipment, loss of income and earning capacity, insurance coverage shortfalls due to coverage limits, uninsured items such as fine art, collectibles, landscaping, expenses due to displacement, inadequately covered rebuilding costs, code compliance and required upgrades, loss of pets and livestock, medical expenses other economic and emotional losses, and punitive damages against the defendants.
The First Investigators to Inspect Woolsey Fire Start Point
Attorneys from Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman were among the first group granted access to investigate Boeing’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory, the starting point for the Woolsey Fire. Diane Marger Moore inspected the site on December 5, 2018 with two of the top certified fire investigators in the country, Michael Vergon and James Finneran, who are also experts for the plaintiffs. The team surveyed the area and documented evidence to be used at trial. Their findings led them to include Southern California Edison and Boeing for their roles in causing and/or contributing to the massive damage caused by the Woolsey fire.