PG&E made a show of finally “admitting liability” for the explosion.  What brought that about?  A sudden pang of conscience?

Not quite. 

PG&E’s latest move is classic litigation strategy.  It’s designed to help PG&E escape full responsibility for what it did rather than own up to its responsibility.  The move paves the way for PG&E to ask the judge to keep out of trial any evidence concerning what caused the explosion. Expect PG&E to argue that, since it admits liability, there’s no reason to allow the victims’ lawyers to uncover what really happened. Or to explain it to the jury.  Instead, PG&E will argue that all that evidence should be swept under the rug.

This strategy isn’t really new.  It’s common when a defendant’s conduct is really, really bad.  For example, a driver who was momentarily inattentive and injures someone in a crosswalk might dispute responsibility for an accident all the way through trial.  But if that same driver was drunk, he will quickly admit liability. Then the driver will argue to the judge that that since he admits liability, the fact that he was drunk is irrelevant and should not be told to the jury.

The trick is an old one.  Do everything possible to keep the public from finding out what really happened.

We’ll see how this plays out.