Utility Wildfire Liability Faces Possible Changes

California law currently requires utilities to pay for property damage caused by their equipment, even if they were not found to be negligent in maintaining and operating the equipment. Now Governor Jerry Brown and lawmakers are working to scale back the law. 

Extreme weather conditions and climate change have increased the severity of California's wildfires and put pressure on the backs of utility companies, even if they have followed all safety measures. 

The governor and legislative leaders announced a special committee Monday to talk about the issue with wildfires in the state as well as fire prevention and requiring utilities to develop more expansive wildfire preparedness plans. 

A bill the committee will work from says “current legal standards should be refined” to allow courts to determine liability when utilities “have acted reasonably in installing, maintaining, and operating their transmission systems.”

The changes to the current law would only apply to future fires and and would not affect previous ones like the October wildfires in Northern California that killed 44 people and destroyed 8,800 structures. 

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported in June that a dozen of the fires were started by PG&E power lines and utility poles which PG&E now faces potentially billions of dollars in costs over insurance claims. 

“We look forward to working with lawmakers to develop new solutions to these problems,” PG&E spokesman James Noonan said.

 Photo: Getty Images

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