Surprises from Judge Dylina at the First Hearing on the San Bruno Fire Cases

Judge Dylina started out today by explaining that he believes he was selected to be the judge for the San Bruno Fire cases because of his experience with complex cases and also his experience as a settlement judge.  No surprise there.  But then he made clear that the San Bruno Fire cases are the court's first priority. That's unusual. In general, judges say that all cases are equally important, and that every plaintiff must wait his turn. But the judge stated repeatedly that the San Bruno residents have suffered horrific losses, and that the cases are of special importance to the community and to people of San Mateo County generally. For that reason, they are Courtroomto be given priority over other cases.  The judge says he intends to get the cases resolved as quickly as possible.

Included in the coordinated lawsuits is one brought by PG&E shareholders against PG&E management. The shareholders claim that management knew about the pipeline problems and did nothing to stop the explosion from happening. By allowing the explosion, the lawsuit claims, management hurt the price of PG&E's stock. Judge Dylina "stayed" -- or froze -- that lawsuit. He ruled that the priority was the San Bruno residents, not the shareholders. Allowing the stockholder lawsuit to proceed would take away time he could better spend on the cases involving the residents. So he will turn to the shareholders actions down the road, only after the residents' cases have been "substantially resolved."

There are two class actions included in the cases. Judge Dylina indicated that he did not think the class actions were appropriate. It is highly unlikely they will be proceeding to trial. Each victim suffered unique harm. Thus, each needs his or her own lawyer, and each lawsuit needs to be separately brought.  

All this is good news for victims.  At long last, the cases are finally on the right track. Judge Dylina set the next hearing for June 30. At that time, a more detailed schedule will be set. Until then, plaintiffs are not allowed to force PG&E to turn documents over or have witnesses appear for depositon. But after June 30th, according to the judge, "the floodgates will open."

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