As PG&E Files for Bankruptcy, Who Is Liable for California’s Wildfires?

Flames from the Camp Fire burn near a home atop a ridge near Big Bend, California, on November 10th, 2018.

In November, the Camp Fire destroyed tens of thousands of homes, killed at least 85 people, and caused an estimated $7.5 billion in damages. Under California law, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, whose equipment was linked to this fire and many others, will pay the cost. But the utility argues there’s another culprit at fault: climate change. 

PG&E plans to file for bankruptcy by the end of this month, court filings obtained by the New York Times show. Facing complaints, a class action lawsuit, and as much as $17 billion in damages for a number of fires, its shareholders claim that climate change and development in the wildland-urban interface bears as much responsibility.

This argument marks a reversal of the typical trend, in which plaintiffs use climate change to seek damages from large corporations. It also contradicts existing state law, which holds utilities accountable for damages. 

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