PG&E Offers to Extend Wildfire Claims Deadline in Bankruptcy Case

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Pacific Gas and Electric lawyers said Monday they will agree to extend an expired deadline for filing wildfire claims by two months after receiving approximately 70,000 claims.

An aerial file photo shows the remains of residences leveled by the Camp wildfire in Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 15, 2018. Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2019 in part due to claims stemming from the blaze, which was sparked by its equipment. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

The announcement was made in a status conference before U.S. District Judge James Donato, who is overseeing the process of estimating PG&E’s total wildfire liability for its bankruptcy case.

PG&E lawyer Kevin Orsini said roughly 70% of Camp Fire victims have filed claims. That’s based on an analysis of buildings identified as damaged or destroyed by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

“I think we ought to be able to do 90% or more,” Donato said. “I think that should be realistic in a case like this.”

According to Orsini, 45,000 claims have been processed. Another 20,000 to 25,000 claims were submitted but not yet processed.

Fire victims filed a motion to extend the Oct. 21 deadline to Jan. 31, 2020, arguing many victims have been unable to submit claims due to “emotional or physical impairment caused by the trauma of the fires, and the circumstances in which those victims now live.”

Orsini said PG&E is willing to extend the deadline to Dec. 20. Any extension must be approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali.

Lawyers for PG&E and wildfire victims are also considering whether new claims related to the Kincade Fire, which started Oct. 23, will be included in the bankruptcy case. The blaze, which has charred 66,000 acres and destroyed 96 buildings, started shortly after a jumper cable broke on a PG&E transmission tower near the start of the fire in Sonoma County.

“We need to confer with all the constituents in the case,” wildfire victims’ attorney Kimberly Morris told Donato. “We need to report back to you after we’ve had a chance to do that.”

Morris said she will probably have an answer next week.

“We’ll be discussing that on our side too,” Orsini told the judge.

Also on Monday, Donato rejected a request to send out questionnaires to fire victims to better ascertain the value of their non-physical injuries. Donato called the proposed questionnaire too complex, and neither side could agree on a “workable” survey and process.

The judge said he would instead use information already available in bankruptcy claim forms and a database created for wildfire-related state litigation.

“I will work with the data you guys tendered,” Donato said.

The judge warned both sides he will not estimate damages for mental and emotional distress without adequate numbers to support them.

“I’m not going to get zero information and then be pressed for a number,” Donato said. “I’ll work with data to make reasoned and reasonable inferences.”

The next status conference is scheduled for Nov. 4.

The administrator of PG&E’s $105 million wildfire relief fund also reported Monday that 13,572 claims were filed, 6,742 claims were approved, and $21.5 million was paid to fire victims as of Oct. 25. The fund, approved in May, was intended to provide immediate relief to victims while the bankruptcy process moves forward.

PG&E declared bankruptcy this past January as it faced more than $30 billion in wildfire-related liabilities due to multiple Northern California wildfires linked to its equipment in 2017 and 2018.

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