Wildfire victims have until 5 p.m. Dec. 31 to file claims against PG&E
Wildfire victims have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to file claims to be compensated by PG&E for losses stemming from major utility-sparked fires over the past four years.
PG&E has promised $13.5 billion to be split among individual fire victims and government agencies to settle billions of dollars in claims against the company for its role in causing devastating wildfires over the past several years. The deal reached in U.S. Bankruptcy Court will likely sidestep the need for lawsuits seeking damages from the company for its role causing the fires.
But people must fill out a three-page form by 5 p.m. Tuesday in order to qualify.
“It is definitely worth it to file a claim,” said Steve Skikos, a lawyer appointed to represent fire victims in bankruptcy court.
People can seek compensation for a wide range of losses, including destroyed and damaged property, wrongful death, business losses, lost wages, emotional toll, physical injuries and evacuation costs. The claims cover the 2017 wildfires in the North Bay and other parts of Northern California, the 2018 Camp fire and the 2015 Butte fire in Butte County.
Kincade fire claims are not part of the bankruptcy process.
Some attorneys representing wildfire victims in bankruptcy proceedings have estimated there are roughly 100,000 individuals who sustained such losses and are eligible to file claims against PG&E.
More than 73,000 individual claims have so far been filed as of Dec. 19, the most recent figure available in court filings.
The deadline was originally set in October but was extended to Dec. 31 after lawyers convinced U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali there was genuine concern the most vulnerable among the tens of thousands of people hit by fires were the most likely to have not yet filed a claim.
U.S. District Court Judge James Donato, who is overseeing the process for estimating the value of claims against the utility, said during an October hearing that it would be “heartbreaking” if even 10% of eligible wildfire victims weren’t counted among those to be compensated by PG&E.
The money being allocated through PG&E’s bankruptcy can be a crucial part of recovery for people, said San Francisco-?based bankruptcy trustee Michael Kasolas.
After the deadline was extended, Montali appointed Kasolas to lead a team running an aggressive public awareness campaign, an unusual if not unprecedented step in a corporate bankruptcy case.
They have sent out thousands of mailers, emails and text messages to wildfire survivors and made announcements at football games and church events. They worked with a Paradise pizza parlor that alerted Butte County residents to the claim process by including fliers in pizza delivery boxes.
“Our goal has been to try and find those who don’t know about filing a claim - and those primarily are people that have been displaced and that are traumatized,” Kasolas said.
The $13.5 billion settlement amount was reached through negotiations between court-appointed representatives for wildfire victims and PG&E. Judge Montali approved the deal earlier this month, but specific plans for how the money will be distributed will be developed later and after all claims are filed.
Lawyers are still battling in closed-door negotiations over how much of the money will go to government agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the state Office of Emergency Services and Cal Fire, which collectively have requested about $4.5 billion - about one third of the $13.5 billion set aside to settle all remaining claims.
PG&E has already agreed to pay local governments $1 billion and insurance companies $11 billion.
The judge must also approve other elements of PG&E’s overall plan to exit bankruptcy, and the utility is pushing to do so before a June 30 deadline.
There’s still time to get the claim form in, either online or by visiting one of several claim assistance centers in Northern California, including one at 111 Stony Circle in Santa Rosa and another at 1850 Soscol Ave., Suite 105, in Napa.
Applicants do not need to know the precise dollar value of their claim.
“We’re going to keep pushing people to file until 5 o’clock,” Kasolas said.