CA Wildfires: Power Company to Plead Guilty to Manslaughter

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Remember the tragic wildfires that struck California in 2018? Well, one company is at the center of the legal firestorm swirling about.

That company? Pacific Gas and Electric, the power company that services much of California. They will plead guilty on 84 counts of manslaughter due to their culpability in the 2018 Camp fire’s initial spread.

A group of protestors marches with signs imploring California to make PG&E a public utility
Pacific Standard

PG&E to Plead Guilty

Court documents filed on Monday showed that the company agreed to plead guilty on 84 counts of manslaughter. This is how many people died during the 2018 Camp wildfire. The company will pay “no more than $3,486,950,” in fines. They must also establish a trust to help the victims of the fire.

That trust will be seeded with $13.5 billion, all of which PG&E must pay, making this an incredibly costly day in court for the electric company. That’s not all, either. The company must also pay hundreds of millions of dollars to the counties affected by the fire. They are to fully cooperate with the prosecutors’ investigation into their misconduct.

There is evidence from the court filings that shows that PG&E is aware of how precarious their current situation is: they have completely waived their right to appeal the case. The guilty plea, the massive fines and the waived right to appeal is damning. The company should be glad that they aren’t being dissolved entirely.

Why Is PG&E at Fault?

For those who haven’t been following the case closely, this may seem odd. How can a power company be at fault for eighty-four deaths in a blazing wildfire? Well, PG&E’s power lines caused the spark that started the blaze, according to California Fire’s investigation.

“The tinder dry vegetation and Red Flag conditions consisting of strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures promoted this fire and caused extreme rates of spread,” CAL Fire stated.

While PG&E has been found responsible, they are now under the process of declaring bankruptcy and restructuring their oversight and internal management.

What this means for their workers, and if the payroll companies will keep the checks rolling out, is uncertain. All of this happening against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic has surely added fuel to the fires of fear for those working for PG&E about their employment. As the company answers to billions of dollars in claims for its role in the fires, many in the state have even floated the idea of making the company a public utility.