PG&E says it's liable for San Bruno explosion

(Brian Carmody)
December 14, 2011 2:09:06 AM PST
There is fallout from PG&E's decision to take full financial responsibility for the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion. Some residents are hoping it will speed along the settlement process, but one attorney is calling it a legal smokescreen. All of this comes as PG&E heads into court on Friday for a hearing.

A San Mateo County judge wanted PG&E to state its official position on whether it's taking full responsibility.

On the spot where his previous home was incinerated and his new one is being rebuilt, Ed Pelligrini wished PG&E's admission of legal liability could have come sooner.

"I'm happy. I'm joyful that we know who's responsible. It's a long time coming. It should have been done months ago, but what can you do?" said Ed.

His brother thinks PG&E should have accepted full blame before now.

"Like I said, 15 months and 4 days past the incident, and the fact that you have to wait this long to get it, doesn't help," said Bob Pelligrini.

The utility agreed to take full responsibility for the gas line explosion last year that killed eight people and wiped out 38 homes in San Bruno's Crestmoor neighborhood. In court papers earlier PG&E left open the possibility it might claim residents may have been negligent. PG&E backed off and on Tuesday said it would compensate all the victims.

Federal investigators have focused on a faulty seam on the pipe as the cause of the blast.

"We've said in the past, and we're continuing to say now very clearly, that none of the victims, residents of San Bruno, or the city of San Bruno itself is at fault," said PG&E Spokesperson Brian Swanson.

But an attorney who represents about 75 residents from San Bruno attacked PG&E's announcement as a way to limit money damages and hide the company's corporate culture.

"Just admitting 'we're at fault' does nothing. It is a meaningless gesture and a smokescreen," said the victims' attorney, Frank Pitre.

At Tuesday night's city council meeting, San Bruno voted to move forward with about $10 million in upgrades to the sewer and water lines in the Crestmoor neighborhood. All that money will come from PG&E. San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane welcomed the announcement.

"I always wish it had come sooner, but this is a long process. The NTSB just gave their final report in August of this year, which was just a few months ago," said Ruane.

The trial is set to begin next summer and some settlement talks are already underway. Legal experts say that by accepting responsibility, PG&E is trying to avoid evidence in court that might increase damages. Plaintiffs' attorneys are going to be fighting back.


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