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Second Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against PG&E Following Wine Country Fires, More Expected

October 26, 2017

The owner of a condominium that burned to the ground in the Atlas fire has filed a class-action lawsuit against PG&E for alleged negligence, according to court records.

Valerie Evans, whose property is in a gated community close to the Silverado Resort and Country Club on Atlas Peak Road near Napa, alleges the public utilities company failed to clear vegetation, trim or cut trees around power lines as required under state law and regulations, according to the complaint filed Thursday in Napa County Superior Court.

The fire, which scorched more than 480 structures, was a “foreseeable, preventable tragedy,” according to the document.

The vegetation growth was particularly heavy because of downpours in the spring. In addition, years of drought have left trees near power lines “weakened, fragile, and prone to break or topple in high winds,” according to the document. Hot, dry winds known as the “Diablo” winds, are common in the fall.

Evans, of San Mateo, is safe, said one of her attorneys, Michael Caddell, of Caddell & Chapman in Houston, Texas. Another woman, also named Valerie Evans, died in Santa Rosa in the Tubbs fire, according to the Solano County Sheriff’s Office.

The complaint filed in Napa County Superior Court is the second known lawsuit related to the clusters of Wine Country fires that have consumed more than 162,300 acres in Napa and Sonoma and Solano counties since Oct. 8, destroying entire neighborhoods in Santa Rosa. A couple who lost their Santa Rosa house in the Tubbs fire filed a complaint last week against PG&E in San Francisco.

Authorities have confirmed 23 fire-related deaths in Sonoma County and six in Napa County. In addition, a volunteer firefighters based in Missouri was killed when his water tender rolled over on Oakville Grade west of Oakville.

PG&E spokeswoman Karly Hernandez on Thursday said “Nothing is more important to us than the safety and well-being of our customers and communities we serve. Our thoughts are with everyone impacted by these devastating wildfires. We are aware that lawsuits have been filed. Beyond that we’re going to be focused on doing everything we can do to help these communities rebuild and recover.” She declined further comment.

Preliminary data indicate losses from the recent clusters of wildfires in California exceed $1 billion, according to the California Department of Insurance. Some analysts have estimated that number could reach $3 or even $4 billion. 

The fires remain under investigation, according to Cal Fire. PG&E reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission it has “$800 million in liability for potential losses that may result from these fires.”

The California Public Utilities Commission on Oct. 12 requested public utilities to preserve all evidence, including emails and non-electronic documents related to potential causes of the fires, as well as “vegetation management, maintenance and/or tree-trimming.”

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