Camp Fire Lawsuits
California Attorneys Advocating for Wildfire Victims in Paradise and Beyond
The Camp Fire, which started in Butte County on November 8, 2018 near Paradise,
California killed 85 people and destroyed more than 18,000 homes and structures.
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and the California Department
of Forestry and Fire Protection both concluded that the deadly blaze was
sparked by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and its poorly maintained
power equipment. In 2019, PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and
admitted in federal court that its equipment had probably caused 10 wildfires
in Northern and Central California.
Families in Paradise and many surrounding communities filed lawsuits against PG&E, alleging the utility is responsible for sparking the Camp Fire. If you
were harmed by this devastating California wildfire and are interested
in speaking to one of our attorneys about your legal rights, or if you
would like free legal assistance submitting your proof of loss claim,
please contact the attorneys at Baum Hedlund.
Based in Los Angeles, our California Camp Fire attorneys can help you explore
your legal options. Call
(855) 948-5098 today or
submit our online form to get started.
Updates on the Aftermath of the Camp Fire
As of February 2019, the death toll from the Camp Fire is 85 fatalities.
Nearly 9,000 firefighters, including many from out-of-state, were called
in to fight the wildfires in northern and southern California. Even with
the extra help, the Camp Fire burned the town of Paradise to the ground
and destroyed more than 18,000 structures.
According to CNN, the fire burned more than 153,000 acres, destroyed more than 13,972 homes,
528 businesses and 4,293 other buildings.
Areas affected by the Camp Fire include:
- Berry Creek
- Butte Creek Canyon
- Butte Valley
- Irish Town
- Little Chico Creek
- Messilla Valley
- Mineral Slide
- Morgan Ridge
- Yankee Hill
On March 20, 2020, PG&E reached a bankruptcy deal that pledges billions
to wildfire victims and removes a key hurdle for the utility to come out
of bankruptcy. PG&E will use shareholder funding to reduce its debt
load as well as submit to more rigorous safety oversight. Failure to make
safety enhancements could lead to the state of California taking over
the utility. Likewise, if PG&E fails emerge from bankruptcy by June
30, 2020, the utility will be forced to put itself up for sale.
On March 23, 2020, PG&E stated in a filing with the Securities and
Exchange Commission (SEC) that it pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary
manslaughter related to the Camp Fire. PG&E also noted in the filing
that it pleaded guilty to one count of causing a fire in violation of
the state penal code.
According to the SEC filing:
“The Utility will be sentenced to pay the maximum total fine and
penalty of approximately $3.5 million. The Agreement provides that no
other or additional sentence will be imposed on the Utility in the criminal
action in connection with the 2018 Camp fire…The Utility has also
agreed to pay $500,000 to the Butte County District Attorney Environmental
and Consumer Protection Fund to reimburse costs spent on the investigation
of the 2018 Camp fire.”
How Did the Camp Fire Start?
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) launched an investigation
into PG&E after the utility company reported electrical malfunctions
near ground zero for the Paradise fire. The agency’s probe focused
on “compliance of electric facilities with applicable rules and
regulations in fire impacted areas,” a spokesperson for the agency
said. “The CPUC staff investigations may include an inspection of
the fire sites once Cal Fire allows access, as well as maintenance of
facilities, vegetation management, and emergency preparedness and response.”
NBC News Bay Area, investigators now believe the fire started due to a failed hook that
held up a high-voltage power line on a nearly 100-year-old PG&E transmission
tower. The fire reportedly started at the base of a transposition tower,
which redistributes electricity on the system to balance the load and
assure safety. The transposition tower is equipped with two arms that
hold the jumper—a part of the power line that shifts to another
point at the top of the tower—and electrical insulators, which look
like white discs. Authorities say the fire started when a steel hook holding
up the insulators fractured in high winds on the morning of Nov. 8.
Of note, in the days before the Camp Fire, PG&E sent a notification
to customers that it might be forced to cut power due to forecasts of
“localized extreme weather.” By the afternoon of Nov. 8, however, the
utility told the CPUC that “weather conditions had improved, and PG&E no longer anticipated
the need to proactively de-energize.”
In October, PG&E made the decision to cut power to 60,000 customers
citing an extreme risk for wildfires. This was the first time the utility
had cut electricity as part of its wildfire safety program. PG&E is
currently on probation following the San Bruno gas explosion. On Nov.
27, 2018, the judge overseeing the probation issued an order demanding
PG&E answer questions related to its role in the North Bay Fires and
the Camp Fire.
“Any wildfire started by reckless operation or maintenance of PG&E
power lines” and/or “any inaccurate, slow, or failed reporting
of information about any wildfire by PG&E” were among the areas
of interest cited by U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup.
Judge Alsup’s order appears to focus on the North Bay Fires in 2017
and the Camp Fire, as it asks for “[a]n accurate and complete statement
of the role, if any, of PG&E in causing and reporting the recent Camp
Fire in Butte County and all other wildfires in California since the judgment.”
PG&E Named in Previous California Wildfire Lawsuits
State officials have also investigated PG&E for its role in previous
wildfires in California. In June of 2018, Cal Fire issued a report blaming
the utility company for several major 2017 wildfires in Northern California
that caused dozens of deaths and destroyed thousands of structures.
Cal Fire, the Nuns, Atlas and Redwood fires in northern California were started
by PG&E’s “electric power and distribution lines, conductors
and the failure of power poles.” Cal Fire issued the report one
month after the agency attributed four other wildfires, including the
Napa wine country fires, to “trees coming into contact with power
The estimated insured losses from the October 2017 wildfires in Northern
California are nearly $10 billion, per the California Department of Insurance.
Many families filed lawsuits against PG&E for its role in the North
Bay fires. In 2017, state regulators
ordered PG&E to pay an $8.3 million fine for failing to maintain a power line that sparked the 2015 Butte fire
in Amador County that killed two people and destroyed more than 500 homes.
Specifically, the fine was for failing to maintain a tree that contacted
with a power line and for failing to report that one of its power lines
caused the deadly blaze.
PG&E Has a Long History of Putting Profit Over People
The Camp Fire is far from an isolated incident. PG&E has a pattern
of serious safety lapses:
San Francisco Gas Explosion (1981)– Occurred at a construction site at Sacramento and Battery Streets in San
Francisco. A 16-inch gas main ruptured, causing an explosion. An estimated
30,000 residents were forced to evacuate as the line expelled gas that
contained toxic PCBs. It took nine hours for workers to shut the gas line off.
Trauner Fire (1994) – A Nevada jury found
PG&E guilty of 739 counts of criminal negligence based on a pattern of tree-trimming violations that caused a wildfire
near the Sierra. Investigators found that the
fire began when a 21,000-volt power line contacted with a tree limb that
PG&E failed to trim. Additionally, investigators found hundreds of safety violations in the
vicinity of the Trauner Fire, approximately 200 of which involved PG&E
power lines contacting with vegetation. PG&E paid $29 million ($22.7
million settlement and $6 million in penalties). In 1998, the California
Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a report that revealed
PG&E had diverted over $77 million ear marked for tree-trimming between
1987 and 1994. During the same period, the utility
underspent its budget for maintenance of its distribution system by $495 million.
Fires at PG&E Mission Substation in San Francisco (1996 and 2003) – In 1996, a cable splice short circuited and burned cable insulation,
resulting in a fire that opened a circuit breaker. PG&E customers
lost power as a result of the blaze.
At the time of the incident, the substation was unmanned and the fire was
only discovered because an employee happened to stop at the substation
to use the restroom.
In 2003, another fire at the Mission substation caused roughly a third
of San Francisco residents to lose power. Like the 1996 fire, the incident
occurred during reduced staffing hours.
According to the CPUC,
“PG&E did not implement its own recommendations from its own
investigation of the 1996 fire… Had PG&E implemented its 1996
investigation recommendations, CPSD believes the cable failure on December
20, 2003 would not have resulted in loss of service to customers.”
Pendola Fire (1999)– The Pendola Fire burned for 11 days, scorching 11,725 acres. A government
investigation found that
the fire started because a rotten pine fell on a power line. The investigation
blamed PG&E for failing to remove the rotten tree. PG&E paid a $14.75 million settlement to the U.S. Forest Service
in 2009 for its role in the Pendola Fire.
Sims Fire and the Freds Fire (2004)– The Sims Fire burned more than 4,000 acres in Trinity County, including
areas of Six Rivers National Forest and Trinity National Forest. Investigators
found the cause was a decaying tree falling on a transmission line. In
court filings, the government said
PG&E failed to remove a decaying tree that fell onto a 66,000-volt
The Freds Fire burned more than 7,500 acres in El Dorado County. According
to court filings,
PG&E was negligent in supervising a contractor whose workers lost control of a large tree they were cutting down. The
tree fell onto 21,000-volt line, sparking the fire. In total, PG&E
and its contractors paid $29.5 million to settle federal lawsuits over
the Sims and Freds Fires.
Power Fire (2004)– The Power Fire burned an estimated 17,000 acres in Amador County and the
Eldorado National Forest. According to federal authorities, the blaze
started when PG&E contractors left cigarettes burning during their
break from clearing vegetation around the power lines.
A civil lawsuit accused PG&E and its contractor, Quanta Services Inc.
of negligently hiring work crews who smoked during a period of extreme
fire risk. Prosecutors said
neither PG&E nor the subcontractor hired to clear the vegetation had
any rules in place governing smoking in a wooded area during a period
of extreme fire risk. Quanta paid $45 million to settle the suit.
Rancho Cordova Gas Explosion (2008)– A gas leak from a PG&E pipe caused natural gas explosion at a Rancho
Cordova residence killed one person, injured 3 other residents, and damaged
several area properties.
A government investigation revealed that PG&E’s incorrect repairs
caused the gas leak. The report also noted that
PG&E failed to send properly trained personnel to inspect the leak
in a timely manner. In 2010, the CPUC filed charges against PG&E
resulting in a $38 million fine.
Whiskey Fire (2008)– A pair of PG&E contractors failed to cut down a grey pine tree that
contacted with a PG&E power line, sparking a blaze in the Mendocino
National Forest that burned 7,800 acres and cost more than $5 million
PG&E and its contractors were required by law to keep tree branches
away from power lines. Both PG&E and contractor Davey Tree Surgery paid $1.5 million to settle
the case. Another contractor, ACTR Inc., paid $2.5 million.
San Bruno Gas Explosion (2010)– A PG&E gas pipe explosion killed eight people, injured 58 others and
decimated an entire neighborhood in San Bruno. A government investigation
found that PG&E’s poor pipeline management was to blame for
In 2015, the CPUC
ordered PG&E to pay a
$1.6 billion fine for negligence in causing the explosion.
CPUC President Michael J. Picker said of PG&E’s corporate culture: “Despite major public attention, ongoing CPUC investigations (OIIs)
and rulemakings (OIRs) into PG&E’s actions and operations, including
the investigations we voted on today, federal grand jury, and California
Department of Justice investigation, continued safety lapses at PG&E
continue to occur.”
a federal jury convicted PG&E on five counts of violating gas pipeline safety laws and one count of
misleading government investigators.
Additionally, a U.S. District judge
imposed a five-year probation period under the watch of a court-appointed monitor.
Court Filing by the CPUC Addressing San Bruno Gas Explosion (2013)
“PG&E engaged in a ‘run to failure’ strategy whereby
it deferred needed maintenance projects and changed the assessment method
for several pipelines from ILI to the less informative ECDA approach –
all to increase its profits even further beyond its already generous authorized
rate of return, which averaged 11.2% between 1996 and 2010…Thus,
it is evident that while the example of [gas transmission and storage]
underfunding between 2008 and 2010 might be extreme, it was not an isolated
incident; rather, it represents the culmination of PG&E management’s
long standing policy to squeeze every nickel it could from PG&E gas
operations and maintenance, regardless of the long term “run to
failure” impacts. And PG&E has offered no evidence to the contrary.”
Carmel Gas Explosion (2014)– A Carmel home was destroyed due to a gas explosion caused by PG&E.
Prior to the explosion, the utility was attempting to replace a gas line,
but lacked records showing that the steel pipe had a plastic insert.
When PG&E crews dug into the pipe to perform the replacement, the plastic
insert was pierced, allowing gas to leak into the residence.
California’s Public Utilities Commission fined PG&E $37.3 million
in penalties over the incident. Additionally, PG&E was forced to pay
the city of Carmel $1.6 million to settle a lawsuit over the gas explosion.
Butte Fire (2015)– The Butte Fire burned for 22 days across Amador and Calaveras Counties.
Two people died, 921 structures were destroyed and more than 70,000 acres
Like the Whiskey Fire, the Butte fire started when a grey pine tree came
into contact with a PG&E power line.
CPUC fined PG&E $8 million for “failing to maintain its 12kV
overhead conductors safely and properly” and failing to maintain
a minimum distance between vegetation and its power lines. Additionally,
CalFire has asked PG&E for $90 million to cover state firefighting costs.
North Bay Fires (2017)– The fires killed at least 44 people, injured numerous others, destroyed
over 8,500 structures and burned over 245,000 acres.
CalFire stated that PG&E equipment was responsible for sparking at least 16 of the
fires. The agency’s report strongly suggested that
violations of state fire safety codes could be involved in raising the
possibility of criminal prosecution.
Legal Help for Camp Fire Victims
The California law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman, has assembled
a highly experienced team of lawyers and law firms to protect the rights
of people impacted by the Camp Fire.
Ronald L. M. Goldman is leading the team. Both are Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyers, certified
by the prestigious National Board of Trial Advocacy as Civil Trial Advocates
and Civil Pretrial Practice Advocates.
Michael L. Baum, our firm’s managing shareholder, has litigated thousands
of personal injury and
wrongful death cases, including the Dupont Plaza Hotel fire in Puerto Rico. We have also teamed
up with renowned environmental attorney, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who worked
with us on the
landmark Monsanto Roundup trials, and respected trial lawyer, Brian R. Strange.
Our experts also include certified fire investigators Michael Vergon and
James Finneran, each of whom have many years of experience investigating
and teaching others to investigate the origin and causes of fires, particularly
those caused by electrical sources. They will lead a thorough inquiry
into the roles Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and other entities
may have had in causing the Camp Fire.
We are helping people in several ways:
We are helping people for free (pro bono) with the preparation and filing of insurance and FEMA claims.
Our team can help ensure that your policy claims are properly and thoroughly
prepared, so as to give your insurance company or FEMA a clear path to
honestly and in good faith process your claim.
If an insurance payment, satisfactory to you, is achieved without the need
for litigation, then
there will be no attorneys’ fees charged against that payment. However, in the event your property insurance claims become disputed
and require mediation, arbitration or litigation, we will represent you
for a contingent fee. We are prepared to litigate against insurance companies
that dishonestly deny property claims or refuse to fulfill their legal
We are filing lawsuits as part of a mass action against PG&E.
Contact our wildfire attorneys
online or by calling
(855) 948-5098 today.