By Molly Casey | KSBY

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) wants to change the law so privately-owned utilities, like itself, are no longer held financially responsible for damage caused by wildfires. 

The North Bay fires that broke out in October destroyed thousands of homes and killed more than 40 people in northern California wine country.

More than $9 billion dollars in insurance claims have been filed since the fires. 

While CAL FIRE investigators have not yet released the official causes if the 19 fires, lawsuits against PG&E are piling up, with plaintiffs claiming the company’s power lines and other equipment sparked at least some of the fires.

On Dec. 20, PG&E announced it would not issue quarterly cash payouts to stockholders because of the “uncertainty related to causes and potential liabilities associated with wildfires in northern and central California.”

In a statement sent to KSBY, PG&E says privately-owned companies like itself “may be liable for property damages and attorneys’ fees associated” with an event like a wildfire… “even if the utility has followed inspection and safety rules.”

In a letter to PG&E community partners, the company says it’s asking California lawmakers to change the law. The utility company says, if that doesn’t happen, it may be forced to cut the amount of money it gives to local non-profits.
In 2016, PG&E says it gave about $28 million in donations to California communities.

KSBY asked Central Coast Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham whether he’d back a bill to change the law. The Republican representative said he does not want to comment on the issue at this time.      

PG&E representatives say the company has already contributed $3 million to support wildfire relief efforts in impacted communities and will continue to offer support as the fire investigations and court cases move forward.