Victims' lawyers call PG&E admission PR stunt

(Brian Carmody)
December 17, 2011 1:20:20 AM PST
PG&E now says it will pay for damages caused by this deadly pipeline disaster in San Bruno last year. But Friday in a Redwood City courtroom, lawyers for the victims called the admission of liability nothing more than a public relations stunt.

Lawyers for PG&E wouldn't talk with reporters, but at a job site must minutes away from the San Bruno blast site, a company spokesperson repeated that PG&E is willing to accept financial responsibility for the damage from the Sept. 9, 2010 explosion and fire that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

"By accepting liability we're accepting financial responsibility to cover the costs of all those claims from the victims of this tragedy," Brian Swanson said.

A lawyer representing more than 50 of the victims calls the utility's admission a public relations stunt.

"What they want to forget about are all the corporate decisions that were made over 54 years," Frank Pitre said.

Pitre points to results of a federal investigation that found a dysfunctional culture at PG&E that allowed failures to go on for decades.

"Should we use the hydrostatic tests as opposed to paying bonus? And each year we know the decision was made, you got to keep those executive bonuses going," Pitre said.

Pitre says the company should be forced to pay more than just actual damages. They should be punished for decades of disregard.

"All I saw was fire all around me and I said either I'm going to make it or I'm going to die," San Bruno blast survivor Ed Pellegrini said.

Pellegrini and his family survived, but their home was destroyed. Like his attorney, Pellegrini believes PG&E should pay punitive damages.

"They knew how long that pipe was there, they knew it was bad. Fix the problem, don't keep prolonging something, look at what happened, you killed eight people, you killed a neighborhood that will never be the same again, think about it," Pellegrini said.

Friday, Judge Steven Dylina called the utility's admission of liability a major step forward. Adding, it may not be Everest, but it's at least K2.

"The judge and I have a difference of opinion; to me it wasn't K2, it wasn't even the little mound you go over when you leave this courthouse," Pitre said.

A trial is set for July 23, 2012.


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