SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5/ AP) — An attorney for Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. said at a hearing on Thursday its goal in its bankruptcy case is to establish a trust fund to resolve all lawsuits from wildfire victims.
Lawyer Stephen Karotkin said that the fund could be financed in various ways and would expedite payments to families affected by wildfires.
The San Francisco-based utility filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Tuesday, citing potentially massive liabilities from the recent fires.
Legal experts say wildfire victims could receive less money in payouts in bankruptcy court.
Karotkin said PG&E did not file for bankruptcy to avoid potential responsibility for California wildfires in 2017 and 2018.
He said Chapter 11 was the only way the company could restore financial stability, address wildfire claims fairly and continue providing reliable electric and gas service.
The utility also filed motions requesting approval to continue paying its 24,000 employees and to borrow $5.5 million from banks.
The judge granted that request for current employees, but not for company executives.
Lawyers for the victims made their case Thursday that victims should be among the first to get paid, even though it’s not legally required.
Notably, they talked about more than 1,000 Butte Fire victims who they say have been waiting more than three and a half years to get paid.
The Butte victims have begun referring to themselves as the forgotten victims. Lawyers said many are still living in trailers on burnt-out properties because they were under insured and have been waiting for payouts from PG&E.
Lawyers said at least 48 of those households already have signed settlement agreements.
“They negotiated those settlements. It was agreed upon. The settlement agreement is signed and PG&E has chosen not to pay,” said wildfire victims’ attorney Amanda Riddle. “Now unfortunately it looks like we have to seek relief from the bankruptcy court. And that’s why we continually ask the judge to prioritize those settlements as if they are a secured creditor.”
In a statement, PG&E told KPIX 5 that it has “settled more than 2,900 claims” from the Butte fires so far, but “has stopped making settlement offers to individual plaintiffs at this time.”
KPIX 5 reporter Julie Watts contributed to this story.
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