Subscribe

PG&E has billions to pay wildfire victims, but not if they miss Monday's deadline

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Subscribe

How To File A Claim For Wildfire Losses

The deadline to file a claim is 5 p.m. Monday

Wildfire victims can file a proof of claim against PG&E for losses from the 2017 Northern California wildfires and the 2018 Camp fire electronically or through the mail. To file a claim, a simple form is available at restructuring.primeclerk.com/pge/EPOC-Index. For more information about the form, go to www.pgefireinfo.com.

As many as two-thirds of an estimated 100,000 people hit by devastating wildfires in recent years could be careening toward another disaster: Missing out on what could be substantial payments from PG&E to help cover their losses.

Most people eligible for payouts haven’t yet filled out a three-page document that could provide life-changing financial help for a wide range of losses, even for those whose homes still stand, according to estimates by lawyers representing victims in the utility’s bankruptcy case.

Due by 5 p.m. Monday, the claim forms are key to freeing up billions of dollars PG&E is required to set aside for wildfire victims in its evolving bankruptcy plan, which includes compensating people for damages, financial losses and even emotional distress caused from electricity-sparked fires. Instructions and a simple online form is available at restructuring.primeclerk.com/pge/EPOC-Index. For more information about the form, go to www.pgefireinfo.com.

“Some people think they’ll get very little money,” said Jim Finn, who lost his Fountaingrove home in the 2017 Tubbs fire. “They think about those class-action lawsuit mailers that say you get a coupon and attorneys get millions. This is not like that. This is billions and billions of dollars for wildfire victims.”

While the exact pool of money being established for individuals who suffered losses in the 2017 North Bay fires and the 2018 Camp fire in Butte County is still under negotiation in federal court, the current competing proposals set aside between $8.4 billion and $14.5 billions for individuals.

Finn and a handful of other fire survivors have banded together in recent weeks to spread the word about the deadline out of fear too many people — and the ones most in need — will miss out on their chance.

They’ve pooled their money to buy social media ads and held meetings from the Sonoma Valley to Santa Rosa.

“It’s just that important,” Finn said.

The eligible group includes those who lost homes and a wide range of others impacted by the fires, such as people forced to evacuate but able to return to standing homes, those who suffered hardships like lost pay and lost business, and individuals whose homes were left in decimated neighborhoods.

That fund will be completely separate from more than $11 billion the utility has already negotiated to compensate insurance companies for the costs those firms have paid out to claims from residents, renters and business owners.

Lawyers representing wildfire victims have raised the alarm that too many people will lose out — leaving PG&E off the hook — because they don’t know about the claim form or chose not to file for a variety of reasons, such as the misconception that bankruptcy means the company can’t pay its debts.

During an Oct. 7 hearing in federal bankruptcy court in San Francisco, attorney Steven Skikos raised the issue with U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali that too many people could lose out.

“I’m not going to be in favor of having tens of thousands of people who aren’t aware of what’s going on in this case from being excluded,” Skikos said.

The judge said he would consider petitions to extend the deadline should lawyers representing wildfire victims file them, even after the deadline has passed. They have not as of Friday, according to court records.

How To File A Claim For Wildfire Losses

The deadline to file a claim is 5 p.m. Monday

Wildfire victims can file a proof of claim against PG&E for losses from the 2017 Northern California wildfires and the 2018 Camp fire electronically or through the mail. To file a claim, a simple form is available at restructuring.primeclerk.com/pge/EPOC-Index. For more information about the form, go to www.pgefireinfo.com.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection in January because of mounting liabilities from wildfires started by its electrical equipment — which the company estimated at $30 billion at that time. Bankruptcy allowed the company to begin a federally overseen process for paying off debts by liquidating some assets and tapping other financing sources, such as loans and equity commitments from investors.

“PG&E filed bankruptcy as a solvent debtor,” said Eric Goodman, an attorney with BakerHoestetler who represents the interests of wildfire victims in the bankruptcy proceedings. “No matter how you slice it, there will be billions and billions of dollars set aside for victims in this case. It’s going to be an enormous sum of money.”

Before the utility sought bankruptcy protection, thousands of wildfire victims had already joined lawsuits against PG&E seeking compensation for damages incurred from the fires. Thousands more had opted out.

Bankruptcy both brought those lawsuits to a grinding halt and created an entirely separate process for victims — regardless of whether they were party to a lawsuit — to receive compensation for damages from fires caused by the utility’s electrical system, which is required by the California constitution.

But not if they don’t fill out the claim form.

The document is a basic form designed for people to fill out without paying a lawyer to do so that essentially adds names to the list of creditors. People who don’t have documentation for losses at their fingertips can check a box that says: “Unknown / To be determined at a later date.”

“Most of us didn’t know the difference between a bankruptcy claim filing and a lawsuit filing — myself included,” said Jeff Okrepkie, a member of the Coffey Strong neighborhood group who lost his Santa Rosa rental home in 2017. “When I learned what it meant, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ People need to know.”

Okrepkie said he only heard about the claim form three weeks ago at a meeting.

As a member of one of the strongest advocacy groups of wildfire victims in Sonoma County forged out of the need to make sense of the dizzying onslaught of post-fire logistics, he is arguably among the likeliest to have known.

Yet, he didn’t.

It was unclear Thursday how many people have filed claims.

Representatives with BrownGreer, a Richmond, Virginia, firm that is processing and tracking claims in the PG&E bankruptcy, didn’t respond to a request this week for data on the number of claims filed so far.

Several said getting people to sign another legal form can feel like screaming into the headwinds of the emotional fallout from fires that still takes a daily toll, even two years later.

“We know how hard it is to have lost your home and deal with all of the logistics,” said Helen Sedwick, who lost her Bennett Ridge home in the Nuns fire. “Some of our most vulnerable neighbors are the most likely to get hurt” by the deadline.

Sedwick and her husband, Howard Klepper, are volunteering their time with Finn to make sure survivors know about the deadline that could, for some, make the difference between rebuilding or not.

Klepper is a luthier and he also lost his work studio filled with a career’s worth of unique woods and tools he used to make custom, hand-built guitars. Two years later, they have moved into a home in Glen Ellen. Klepper has replaced some of his tools but hasn’t built a guitar since the fire wiped everything away. It’s too hard.

Sedwick and Klepper ticked off a list of the kinds of people with fire losses who may not know they could be eligible for compensation: Renters. Houseguests forced to evacuate. People who sold their lots and moved away. Residents whose homes survived in or adjacent to a destroyed neighborhoods. Small businesses forced to close or that lost customers.

“If one family gets a significant boost then it’s been worth it,” Klepper said.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

Show Comment

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine