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California Wildfire Victims Face Deadline To File Against PG&E

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Survivors of some of California's worst wildfires in recent years have until this afternoon to file claims against the utility PG&E. The company was pushed into bankruptcy earlier this year after it was found responsible for sparking those fires. Lawyers for survivors are asking a judge for an extension. But for now, many of those who are eligible for compensation may miss out. From member station KQED in San Francisco, Lily Jamali reports.

LILY JAMALI, BYLINE: Over the last two years, Robert Bean lost his home and the house he grew up in in fires sparked by PG&E equipment in Paradise and Napa, Calif. Here's what a lot of people don't - thousands of photos documenting the damage to prove what he lost.

ROBERT BEAN: The first one is my car all loaded with the must haves that I had to abandon for safety reasons.

JAMALI: And yet he says he couldn't bring himself to file his claim until just days before the deadline.

BEAN: We're still dealing with the pain and anguish of the event. So many people are still hurting. So many people are so in a state of confusion about this. And we should be hurting, and we should be in a state of confusion. It's not easy to process.

JAMALI: To get people to participate in the process, PG&E says it's aired thousands of TV and radio commercials like this one since July.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: If you or someone you know suffered an injury or wrongful death, property damage or other loss resulting from the Northern California fires, you may be eligible for compensation.

JAMALI: The utility has also advertised on social media and sent out more than 6 million claims forms by snail mail, all part of the bankruptcy courts mandate. PG&E spokesman Paul Doherty says the utility needs a full accounting of who it owes money to and how much.

PAUL DOHERTY: PG&E can't confirm its plan of reorganization and emerge from Chapter 11 until proceedings regarding wildfire liabilities are completed or resolved.

JAMALI: Those who don't file could lose out, according to professor Jared Ellias, who teaches bankruptcy at UC Hastings School of Law.

JARED ELLIAS: It's kind of like you're signing your ticket to be part of the process. And if you don't, any claim that you might have had against PG&E - that'll be discharged and go away forever.

JAMALI: And even though victims of the fires have had months to apply, as many as half of those who could claim losses against PG&E haven't as the clock ticks down. For NPR News, I'm Lily Jamali in San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF FAIT'S "CHASING YOUTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.