The seventh largest wildfire in California history. Over 70,000 acres and 450 homes destroyed. Wild fires have always been a threat in California and the drought makes it so much worse. However, it is not expected that a mistake by a utility company could cause so much damage. A new lawsuit claims that PG&E and their maintenance contractor are to blame for the Butte fire that started on August 9, 2015.

The Governor declared a state of emergency and the Butte fire was deemed a national disaster by the federal government.  FEMA and aid was sent into Amador and Calaveras County. Many people lost everything they own and two people lost their lives. This first lawsuit involves two plaintiffs who were renting and lost their place to live and all their possessions, but we can expect to see many more people filing lawsuits in the coming weeks and months.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but representatives of PG&E have said that a tree may have contacted a line in the area where the fire started. It is unclear right now if the tree touched the line and sparked the fire or if the tree touched the line because of the fire. The lawsuit names PG&E and Trees, Inc., who is responsible for making sure vegetation is well away from the power lines and doesn’t pose a threat to the line. Trees can cause damage to PG&E property if they grow too close. Damaged lines can lead to downed lines, power outages, and, of course, wild fires.

Utilities are widespread and effect the daily lives of everyone in the country. They have a responsibility to maintain their equipment and prevent dangerous conditions. We have a case where a tree root damaged a pipe and led to massive flooding on a street. Our client’s vehicle started to hydroplane and he was injured when his car ran into the wall of a bridge. It is the responsibility of the utility company to inspect their equipment and take actions to prevent damage and destruction. When a company fails in that duty and people suffer for it, they must be held responsible.

In our case, the utility company knew about the tree roots and the potential danger prior to this incident and did nothing about it. There are many degrees of knowledge about a potential danger. In our case, we have documentation that proves they knew about the danger. In PG&E’s case, if the Plaintiffs do not find a “smoking gun” document that proves they knew about the danger the trees posed, they may rely on the fact that they should have known. Routine inspections should be taking place. And the company should be aware that with drought comes an increase in bark beetles, which damage trees and can cause them to weaken and shift.

The drought effects many aspects of our lives. In Sacramento County we can only water our lawns twice a week and we are encouraged to stop watering altogether and “go gold”, but that much dry grass in front of every house creates a fire hazard that does not normally exist. We are coming in to storm season and while we hope for rain and water, what we may get is lightning and more fires. While the elements and the earth cannot be held responsible for the difficulties they cause in our lives, the people and companies who cause such destruction due to their own negligence can be.

Need advice? Think you have a potential personal injury case? Contact the law offices of Alan M. Laskin in Sacramento California today. 

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