This week the Sacramento County judge who is responsible for overseeing the thousands of cases arising from the Butte Fire ruled that PG&E must pay property owners for the damage the fire caused.  

The first cases will be going to trial on August 11.  The order means that the issue for the jury will not be whether PG&E should pay the fire’s victims, but rather how much.

 

Ruling on Submitted Matter Inverse Condemnation Motions Signed 06-22-17 by Mike Danko on Scribd

Chris Chandler, age 62, was hit by a car and killed crossing El Camino in Atherton.  The driver said he never saw Chris. The police blamed Chris for riding his bike into traffic without looking. 

We proved that Chris was killed because the crosswalk was essentially invisible to oncomingChandler Family motorists and that Caltrans should never have installed it.  On Monday, a jury awarded Chris’ family $9.5 million, holding the California Department of Transportation 90% at fault for Chris’ death, and finding Chris blameless. 

Marked crosswalks in uncontrolled intersections give pedestrians a false sense of security — pedestrians believe that vehicles will yield to them in the crosswalk when, in fact, the drivers of the vehicles may be unable to see the pedestrians due to surrounding traffic  . . . Caltrans was aware of studies discouraging the marking of crosswalks in busy uncontrolled intersections and was aware of accidents elsewhere along El Camino. . .

According to Caltrans’ witnesses, there are 28 other crosswalks on El Camino in San Mateo county that are just like the one where Chandler was killed.  Caltrans knows that they are all dangerous but, as a matter of policy, won’t fix any particular crosswalk until it learns of at least three people who are killed or injured at the intersection in question.  Although there had been numerous accidents where Chandler was killed, the statistics never made it into Caltrans database.

Local authorities all along El Camino have pleaded with Caltrans to fix the crosswalks, but Caltrans refuses to act.  We’re hoping that Caltrans will hear the jury’s message and fix the crosswalks now before someone else is killed.

 

Study – Safety Effects of Marked Versus Unmarked – 2005 by mikedanko on Scribd

Was PG&E’s cost-cutting a cause of the Butte Fire? Did PG&E use money that was supposed to be used for tree trimming and pay it out as profit to its executives? The attorneys for the Butte Fire victims have been looking into those questions from the outset of the Butte Fire investigation.   

Now State Senator Jerry Hill is asking the same questions.  He called PG&E into a meeting in SanButte Fire Lawsuits Francisco to find out.  Hill is someone who knows a bit about PG&E’s history.

PG&E, in 1994, diverted $77 million from what was supposed to go to repair and maintenance of their electrical lines. They diverted it to corporate profits, to shareholder profits; just as they did in the gas system with hundreds of millions of dollars.”

This is the sort of thing that the California Public Utilities Commission is supposed to prevent.  But according to Hill, the CPUC has been unsuccessful in formulating vegetation management rules to prevent wildfires.  So Hill is getting involved in the issue himself.

Jerry Hill represents San Bruno, the community where a PG&E fire killed 8 and destroyed 47 homes in 2010.

              

Owen Goldsmith was 82.  He had lived in Calaveras for more than 30 years. When the Butte fire threatened his home, he decided to stay and fight it.  Butte Fire Death Lawsuit 

On Tuesday, our Butte Fire legal team filed a wrongful death suit against PG&E in San Francisco on behalf of Goldsmith’s family.  His daughter spoke to the press:

No one should have to go through what I imagine he went through. . . . It was so difficult to see that he died in his refuge."

Our lead lawyer on the case, Amanda Riddle, explained to NBCBay Area News, regardless of whether the 82 year-old was told to evacuate, it’s still on PG&E.

PG&E bears the ultimate responsibility. They put him in a situation where he felt that he had no escape."

 

Wrongful Death Complaint – Mathes v PGE – Filed

The Butte Fire burned properties at elevations from about 1,000 to 3,000 feet. The trees growing in those elevations of the Sierra Nevada foothills include Interior Live Oaks, Blue Oaks, Black Oaks, Douglas Fir, Sierra Lodgepole Pine, Ponderosa Pine, Sugar Pine, and others.

Most people value the beauty trees bring to their area. An owner of a home in the foothills prefers a view of forested hillsides to a view of barren, burned hillsides. But putting a value on the loss of the trees can be difficult.

Three different methods are typically used for valuing a tree:

  1. the decrease the loss of the tree causes to the real estate’s market value,
  2. the CTLA formula method, and
  3. the tree’s replacement cost.

If someone else caused the loss of the trees on your property, they will likely argue for the first method, particularly in rural areas. This approach minimizes the amount they would pay because most of the value of rural real estate is in the structures and land, not the trees.

But the law generally requires a person responsible for a tree’s destruction to pay the cost of replacing the tree with one of same kind and size.  The replacement cost of a mature trees will likely be much higher than the decrease the loss of the tree causes to the home’s market value.

For example, consider a home with three bedrooms located on 40 forested acres valued at $400,000. If a fire burns all of the trees but spares the home, the property’s market value will certainly drop.  But a large portion of the value may remain in the house and the land. Imagine the property is now valued at only $300,000 because of the destroyed trees. The person who caused the fire may offer to pay the homeowner $100,000, the reduced value of the real estate.

The law, however, says that the one who caused the fire is responsible for restoring the homeowner’s property to the condition it was in before the fire. That means the homeowner is entitled to be paid the cost of replacing the trees destroyed. Replacement in this instance does not mean with new saplings but with trees of a similar size as what were destroyed.

What does it cost to replace mature trees? It depends on the size of the tree, the type of tree, and the difficulty in transplanting the tree. A 50 foot oak tree will cost more to replace than a 10 foot pine. Determining the type and size of the trees is essential in calculating the replacement costs.  But in almost all cases, the cost of replacing the trees will be more than the decrease in the home’s market value as a result of the tree’s destruction.