“In terms of the damages, it is going to be the largest fire in the history of California, if not the country,” says attorney Gerald Singleton from the Single Law Firm based in San Diego. “In terms of the number of homes destroyed and the total amount of the damages I think it will be between $10 and $12 billion.”
Many of the thousands of people who were forced to run from the flames, leaving homes and businesses to burn, have filed lawsuits blaming Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), a California utility company, for starting some of those fires.
Singleton currently represents 220 from the four counties where the most serious fires occurred. They are homeowners, business owners and renters who lost either their personal possessions or their homes and their property.
“There were 28 fires in the northern California area,” says Singleton. “The most serious ones were in four counties Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa, Lake Counties and it appears PG&E was responsible for a number of those.
“We have filed against PG&E on behalf of about 70 of our clients and we anticipate filing a number of additional suits, but we wanted to get one on file just to make sure that PG&E allowed us to inspect any of the potential evidence,” says Singleton.
The exact cause of the fires is still being investigated and it is not known what role, if any, PG&E played. However, it is believed that in some cases PG&E power lines and blown transformers may have turned dry vegetation into fires.
“We are suing in cases where the power lines are believed to be at fault.
“There were very high winds combined with low humidity,” says Singleton. “Sometimes trees hit powerline wires that would cause the circuit break, start to arc or spark and that would start the fire.
“It is believed in a couple of fires the lines slapped together and there have been reports of equipment failures in the transformers that blew and caused fires.
“We are not going to know exactly what happened until we get the investigation and the discovery done but we have filed at this point so that we could get the process started and go forward with discovery,” says Singleton.
The Singleton Firm has specialized in fire damage litigation for over a decade. In 2015, it recovered millions of dollars on behalf of individuals who lost property after PG&E was held liable for faulty maintenance practices that caused the Butte Fire near Sacramento, California.
“The Butte litigation and medication process moved along quite quickly and there were settlements within a year, but I think the 2017 fires are going to be different because of liquidity issues.
“PG&E only has 800 million in insurance and it is unclear what they are going to be held liable for.
“It may be PG&E did not cause all the fires so they may not be responsible for the entire 10 to 12 billion but it is likely going to be substantially more than their insurance,” he says. “There may be some procedures worked out so that the damages are paid over time. I don’t think PG&E is in a position to write a check for the amount of damages that are being claimed.”