PG&E Says It’s Liable for the San Bruno Pipeline Accident; Victims’ Attorneys Unimpressed
Update 8:10 p.m.: Per this Bay Area News Group article, attorneys for San Bruno victims are unimpressed with PG&E’s mea culpa:
(V)ictims’ attorneys questioned whether the announcement is a genuine act of contrition or just a publicity stunt intended to rehabilitate the company’s bruised image. Frank Pitre, who represents many of the victims, said it’s the latter.
He added that PG&E could use this admission in an effort to bypass the liability portion of the trial, which is set to start July 23. During that stage the victims’ attorneys are able to tell jurors about problems with the utility’s operations…
“This is PG&E’s effort to sweep everything under the rug. They admit fault without having to expose PG&E executives who chose profits over safety,” said Pitre. “Everybody in their right mind already knows PG&E is responsible.”
Press release from the company:
Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) today stated that it is liable for the fatal natural gas pipeline accident in San Bruno in September 2010.
This means that PG&E is taking on financial responsibility to compensate all of the victims for the injuries they suffered as a result of the accident. PG&E has made this statement in response to a San Mateo County Superior Court judge’s request for PG&E’s official position and comes ahead of a court hearing Friday to discuss various issues regarding the case.
“PG&E is hopeful that today’s announcement will allow the families affected by this terrible tragedy to receive compensation sooner, without unnecessary legal proceedings,” said PG&E President Chris Johns. “We are affirming our commitment to do the right thing in our response to this accident.”
Over the past 14 months, PG&E has been working with those impacted by the accident to resolve all claims fairly and promptly. The company remains committed to helping the city of San Bruno and the victims of the accident and their families recover and rebuild.
Today’s announcement also makes clear that none of the plaintiffs, San Bruno residents or the city itself is at fault. “We would never consider holding the residents accountable for this accident,” Johns added. “Since the accident, PG&E has stood by the community of San Bruno, and we will bear the cost to make things right for the city and its people.”
We are working to interpret just how big a deal this is now. From AP:
The announcement Tuesday comes as company attorneys prepare for a hearing regarding more than 90 civil suits filed against the utility in San Mateo County Superior Court…The trial date has been set for July 23, 2012.
Since the accident, PG&E has been hammered by both the government and a series of damaging revelations in the press about the substandard safety and lack of documentation related to its gas pipeline. In August, the NTSB, in a scathing report and hearing, pinned the blame for the explosion and fire squarely on organizational incompetence by PG&E, with lax oversight by the California Public Utilities Commission and the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration as contributing factors.
In September, as part of our coverage of the one-year anniversary of the disaster, KQED’s Amy Standen interviewed several survivors. One of them was Gene O’Neil, whose house was burned to the ground and whose wife and daughters were badly burned. Mr. O’Neil complained bitterly about PG&E’s response to the accident in regard to the victims:
Initially PG&E stepped up. The day after, they were giving out credit cards with $1000 on them. PG&E’s approach when it first started, you had the president or the CEO say they are going to make people in San Bruno whole, they were sorry, they ran an ad.
And you know what? That was a nice ad and a nice thing to say, but that’s all it was. They have no more intention of making people whole then they do in lowering your rates. That’s not in the plan right now. It’s gone from making people whole to the last PG&E spokesman saying they’re committed to doing what they could to help out. That’s a far cry.
What is happening is that people have to go through the insurance process before PG&E will deal with you. We’re being run through the insurance mill. My wife is looking at 88 pages in small print of all the inventory, when did you buy it, how much is it worth now. And the insurance companies are not being kind to anyone in this tragedy.
PG&E should step up and say, man, we’re not running you through the insurance mill. They said they were going to make the people of San Bruno whole. They are not. They are not.