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California wildfires: what is the cause?

In previous posts, we discussed the impact that wildfires and resulting rains and mudslides have had on homeowners and property owners across California; particularly in the Montecito area near Santa Barbara. Hundreds of thousands of acres have been destroyed, and people have lost their lives and their homes.

As a result, lawsuits and claims have started trickling into court against utility companies who had utility poles in the area. Several allegations against the utility companies include improper maintenance of electric wires and improper handling and service of those wires (Negligence).  

As discussed in this Bloomberg article, two of the largest utility companies in the state, PG&E Corp. and Edison International, are making the argument that recent wildfires - and the increasing number and severity of wildfires - should be attributed to climate change and global warming, not the downed utility poles in the area.

This argument, if successful, could have a profound impact on the current and future lawsuits against these companies. If the wildfires are attributed to climate change, then the utility companies may successfully avoid having to pay for damage done by future fires if the damage stems from nature, and not their actions or equipment.

As it stands now, the utility companies are looking at billions of dollars in damages. Avoiding such massive expenses in the future is undoubtedly a priority for these companies.

However, current laws in California remain the same. If a person's land is taken by the government (or in some cases, a public entity), then that person must receive just compensation. In the case of fires caused by downed utility poles, then, the utility companies can be financially responsible, should a property owner decide to file an inverse condemnation claim.

This discussion is an ongoing one, as parties including utility companies will likely continue to make an effort to change the current inverse condemnation laws. We will keep readers apprised of any changes or developments that occur.

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