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Though it might sound like karmic justice for the utility company blamed for massive California wildfires to be declaring bankruptcy, the victims who lost their homes and livelihoods are still waiting for compensation so they can start over.
Recently, PG&E asked the court to approve a $105 million fund for those victims in need of urgent assistance. In the recent Paradise fire, 80 percent of the population was displaced, and victims from prior fires are still waiting to be compensated for their lost property.
Currently, in California, utility companies can be held liable when their equipment causes a wildfire, and while there may be legislative changes on the horizon, current fire victims who know PG&E is to blame have been frustrated by the company’s bankruptcy.
When an individual or company files for bankruptcy, they get a bit of temporary relief from being sued, and may, in the end, be able to reduce or discharge some debts. But that temporary relief from lawsuits, called an automatic stay, means that current victims have to wait longer before they can sue, and for their claims to get paid. The currently proposed fund for victims in need of emergency assistance is hoped to bridge the gap while the bankruptcy proceedings unfold. Significantly, that $105 million isn’t likely to go very far as the total damages are estimated at roughly $13 billion.
Lawmakers in California are considering some moves to help ease the burden on utility companies facing massive wildfire liability. One of the proposed measures would establish a state wildfire insurance fund that would hopefully lessen the financial burden of covering all the losses. Additionally, it has been proposed the law ease the strict liability standard for utility companies when they are not negligent, or when their equipment isn’t actually to blame.
Unfortunately, for the victims who have promised compensation then made to wait, no solution can come soon enough.