California Utility To Plead Guilty to 84 Counts of Manslaughter For Role in Wildland Fire

In a plea agreement announced today, Pacific Gas & Electric will plead guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter for its role in causing the Camp Fire in 2018. The utility was indicted previously in Butte County, but the indictment was sealed while the plea negotiations were ongoing.

The Camp Fire is said to be the most deadly and expensive fire in California’s history. It started on November 8, 2018, reportedly started by a faulty electric transmission line. It was finally contained on November 25, 2018, but not before it killed 85 people, many of whom were burned in their vehicles as they were trying to flee. The fire scorched 153,336 acres, destroyed three towns, damaged 18,804 structures, and resulted in damages estimated at over $50 billion.

For its part, PG&E was forced into bankruptcy, facing those $50 billion in claims. No one from the company will be facing prison, but the company will pay a $4 million fine. The plea must still be approved by Butte County Superior Court. Because the California courts are closed due to the Coronavirus, a hearing has been scheduled on April 24, 2020 for PG&E to enter its plea and face sentencing.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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