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PG&E Acknowledges Its Liability for San Bruno Disaster

On December 13 th, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), the utility company whose gas line exploded in September 2010, finally accepted responsibility for the disaster. In a press release issued by the company, PG&E conceded that they were liable for the blast and promised to pay the victims for their injuries. The explosion left eight dead, destroyed over 38 homes, and caused injuries and damages to many more residents of the area.In his statement, PG&E’s president, Chris Johns said, “PG&E is hopeful that today’s announcement will allow the families affected by this terrible tragedy to receive compensation sooner, without unnecessary legal proceedings. We are affirming our commitment to do the right thing in response to this accident.” While Johns’ statements may sound full of heart, many feel that it took the company too long to step up.The company’s statement flies in the face of earlier court filings that distanced the company from the specter of liability. One such filing claimed their pipelines were state of the art and suggested that the pipeline failure might be the responsibility of an unknown third party.
A company brief even suggested some of the actions of the victims may have contributed to the gas line explosion. The company denies any intent to implicate the victims in the disaster.Yet people in the legal community remain suspicious of the company’s motives. Some feel that this public statement may be more tactical that sentimental. Around 300 San Bruno explosion victims have filed lawsuits against the company. There is speculation among the legal community that the company’s acknowledgement has more to do with trying to limit an award of punitive damages than an attempt to clarify their position. Although actual damages for the PG&E gas explosion could cost the company millions, punitive damages could be much higher.There are other reasons for people to be suspicious about the timing of the company’s admission of liability. In September, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a 140-page report summarizing their findings about the blast.In the report, the NTSB described a company that appeared to take an apathetic approach to safety. The report found deficiencies in PG&E’s operational structure that extended over 50 years. From failed recordkeeping to improper testing, the company was repeatedly criticized by the safety board for their practices.Victims of the San Bruno fire are still wrestling with the consequences of the blast over a year later. If you or a loved one was injured as a result of the explosion, you should speak with an experienced San Francisco personal injury attorney who is familiar with the disaster and can review your options with you.

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