PG&E Bankruptcy and Wildfire Claims
Thursday December 5, 2019 — PG&E filed for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy on January 29, 2019. Legal claims arising out of the 2017 North Bay Fires and the 2018 Camp Fire will now proceed to resolution through the bankruptcy court rather than the civil courts. Wildfire victims do not lose their right to compensation because of the bankruptcy and should consult an attorney about preparing a claim.
If you suffered losses in the following or related fires, you may be entitled recover legal damages from PG&E:
- Atlas Fire (Napa and Solano Counties)
- Camp Fire (Butte County)
- Cascade Fire (Yuba County)
- Cherokee Fire (Butte County)
- Highway 37 Fire (Sonoma County)
- Honey Fire (Butte County)
- La Porte Fire (Butte County)
- Lobo Fire (Nevada County)
- Nuns Fire (Napa and Sonoma Counties)
- Pocket Fire (Sonoma County)
- Redwood Valley/Potter Fire (Mendocino County)
- Sulphur Fire (Lake County)
- Tubbs Fire (Sonoma and Napa Counties)
We invite North Bay and Butte County fire survivors to contact our office at any time to review your case and understand your legal options.
More information about the PG&E bankruptcy is provided below.
North Bay Fires Map
Camp Fire Map
What PG&E Bankruptcy Means for Wildfire Lawsuits
PG&E filed for bankruptcy voluntarily, and the company is not insolvent. By filing for Chapter 11, PG&E will be allowed to continue its business operations while restructuring its debts and resolving liabilities. Primarily, those debts and liabilities relate to wildfire claims.
Shortly after the October 2017 North Bay Fires, members of the affected communities began filing lawsuits against PG&E based on the company’s alleged role in causing the disaster. The lawsuits were subsequently coordinated into a single mass tort proceeding in San Francisco County Superior Court (JCCP No. 4955).
Butte County survivors similarly filed lawsuits following the 2018 Camp Fire, with a motion to coordinate those cases still pending at the time PG&E initiated bankruptcy proceedings.
Once PG&E filed for bankruptcy, however, the civil lawsuits were automatically stayed (or paused). Instead, all claims for fire-related damages will be incorporated into and resolved as part of the bankruptcy proceedings. Broadly, the process involves the following steps:
- First, the attorneys representing wildfire claimants will work with financial experts to arrive at an aggregate estimation of claims, i.e., the total liability PG&E faces for all wildfire damages. At the same time, attorneys for PG&E will prepare a competing (and much lower) estimation of the wildfire claims.
- Second, after any disputes over the value of claims are resolved, the appropriate amount will be designated for the compensation of wildfire claims and placed into a trust as part of PG&E’s Chapter 11 reorganization plan (or, financial restructuring).
- Third, attorneys will begin working with the administrator of the trust to fairly allocate the funds amongst the individual wildfire claimants according to the facts of each case and the unique damages sustained.
With support from the Governor’s office and the California legislature, PG&E is expected to emerge from bankruptcy under a reorganization plan in secure (or “investable”) financial condition.
Most importantly, the bankruptcy does not prevent individuals and families impacted by the North Bay and Camp fires from asserting their right to compensation against PG&E.
Wildfire Claimants Are Creditors of PG&E
If you have a claim for fire-related damages, you are considered an unsecured creditor of PG&E for purposes of the bankruptcy process. This is different from a class action lawsuit. No class action has been certified in either the civil court or the bankruptcy court. Rather, each wildfire claimant (or unsecured creditor) must file a separate claim in the bankruptcy court to safeguard their right to compensation.
Accordingly, it is important to understand the full scope of your legal damages, how to properly document your losses, how to complete the claim form process, and how to ensure a fair amount is allocated to your claim.
While you may submit a claim on your own, we highly recommend consulting an attorney before submitting a claim form and electing to represent yourself in a complex bankruptcy matter.
At this time, the court has not yet issued a claims Bar Date (the deadline for submitting claims), nor has the court approved an official claim form for wildfire losses. However, we encourage all potential claimants to discuss their case with an attorney in a timely manner to begin the process.
The Official Committee of Tort Claimants
As part of the bankruptcy proceedings, the U.S. Trustee appointed 11 fire victims to serve on an official committee of tort claimants. The Tort Claimants’ Committee (or TCC) is designed to give the individuals and families most affected by the 2017 and 2018 fires an independent and official voice throughout the bankruptcy case.
As Governor Newsom’s office stated in a letter to the U.S. Trustee, “Most vulnerable in this process are the wildfire victims who were uninsured, underinsured or have potential claims against the company for personal injury and wrongful death. These individual victims should not be left to fend for themselves in a creditor class outnumbered by sophisticated and deep-pocketed financial institutions and insurance companies.”
The TCC and its attorneys have a fiduciary duty to advocate for the interests of all fire and other tort claimants in the bankruptcy proceeding. This includes filing and arguing motions before the court, negotiating with the debtor and other stakeholders for the fair compensation of claims, and opposing or supporting any reorganization plan that would permit PG&E to terminate bankruptcy.
While the TCC acts in the collective interest of all tort claimants, the committee does not represent any individual homeowners, renters, businesses, or other wildfire victims in their damage claims against PG&E. All such claims must still be filed on an individual basis.
How to File Your Wildfire Claim in the PG&E Bankruptcy
If you have previously retained an attorney for your wildfire claim, you do not need to take any further action. Your attorney will prepare the necessary information about your case and file a proof of claim on your behalf in the PG&E bankruptcy court. Your attorney will continue to represent you throughout the remainder of the proceedings until your case is resolved.
Any potential claimants who have not yet hired an attorney should be aware that the bankruptcy court will announce a “bar date,” after which time no further claims may be included in the proceeding or compensated. This time period may be shorter than the statute of limitations that might otherwise apply in the civil court.
Accordingly, if you or a loved one experienced personal injury, property loss, business losses, or other damages, you should consult a lawyer in a timely manner.
Our experienced mass tort attorneys provide consultations at no cost and with no obligation. Reach us by phone or through our brief online form at any time to discuss your claim.