U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali agreed this week (8/16) to allow a State jury to decide whether PG&E’s equipment ignited the devastating wildfire in California wine country nearly two years ago.
CalFire investigators have already determined the fire that killed 23 people and destroyed more than 5,000 homes in the Santa Rosa area was caused by a private electrical system. Victims of the fire disagreed and demanded a jury trial. Meanwhile, PG&E argued that the bankruptcy process should determine whether it should be held liable for the fire.
Montali ruled that a State court was a suitable venue for resolving the matter.
If a jury decides the utility is responsible for the fire, PG&E could face a far more costly exit from bankruptcy.
The decision to afford a trial by jury could create problems for PG&E securing support for the legislation that PG&E is pushing for — this is the securitization bonds that they have lobbied for. As reported last week, an amended AB 235 (Mayes) is anticipated this week (Monday or Tuesday) that will outline the details. Draft language that circulated late on Friday (8/16) suggests that the “ask” has been reduced from earlier outlined (by PG&E in its lobbying documents) proposal of $40 billion to $20 billion.