Northern California Fire Lawyers Obtain Documents That Show PG&E Knew About The Risk of Caribou-Palermo Line Failure

March 19, 2019

Internal PG&E Emails Show that PG&E Rated the Transmission Line that Started the Camp Fire as Having a “High” Risk of Failure

CHICO, CA – Danko Meredith, Gibbs Law Group, and Corey, Luzaich, de Ghetaldi & Riddle, a coalition of law firms known as Northern California Fire Lawyers, are in possession of documents showing that as early as 2014, PG&E knew that the towers on the Caribou-Palermo line – the  transmission line responsible for starting the November 2018 Camp Fire – had a “high” likelihood of failure.  In a February 25, 2014, email, PG&E employees admitted the line posed a risk of failure but figured any resulting fire would probably be doused by rain:

“Caribou Palermo: <200 score because there is no likely large environmental event (if structures fail, it will be likely due to heavy rain and no wildfires are possible then). Also no likely public safety issue with live wires down because it is in a remote area. Reliability score is not that high because although the likelihood of failed structures happening is high, the affected customers are likely in the order of >1K.”

PG&E bases risk scores on the likely number of customer complaints following service outages and the length of those outages.  A low reliability score means that PG&E foresees relatively few customer complaints following an outage, and thus PG&E decides it need not be concerned about the risk of failure.  In this instance, PG&E assigned the Caribou-Palermo line a low reliability score because “although the likelihood of failed structures happening is high,” an outage would affect only about 1,000 customers so there would be relatively few customer complaints.  PG&E also concluded that rain would put out any fire caused by the live wires down.

“PG&E knew that the transmission line that caused the Camp Fire posed a high risk of failure but did nothing because the company did not think it would lead to a lot of customer complaints,” said Dario de Ghetaldi, one of the lead attorneys representing Camp Fire victims against PG&E.  “PG&E knowingly endangered the lives and property of at least 1,000 customers at risk without warning those customers.  This is another example of PG&E placing profits over safety.”  Of course, the danger to life and property was much greater when the Camp Fire swept through the Town of Paradise and the neighboring towns of Concow and Magalia, killing 86 people, injuring and traumatizing thousands of others, and destroying almost 15,000 homes.

In December 2012, just over a year before PG&E dismissed the risk that the Caribou-Palermo line posed, five transmission towers in the line collapsed.  With this information and the information known to the company in February 2014, PG&E made no effort to inform the public of the risk that the Caribou-Palermo line posed and did not perform work to upgrade the towers on the line to lower the risk of failure.

In 2016, PG&E employees discussed in their “Weekly Near Hit Report” the fact that “J” hook hardware used on the Caribou-Palermo line towers were compromised and subject to break easily.  The November 1, 2016, PG&E document states that:

“Contractor Employee was working on lattice tower 011/099 on the Caribou-Palermo 115kV line executing work of recoating tower. From working position, he reached to reposition himself grasping a piece of flat cross bracing when the “J” hook hardward [sic] used to secure the flat bracing to the tower leg failed and broke at the “J” part of the “J” hook hardware. It appears as though about 20% of the thickness of the bolt had been compromised through corrosion (see attached).”

The document further cautioned crews working on the towers to take special care when “applying force” to “J” hooks.  “Absent in these documents is any suggestion that defective ‘J’ hooks should be inspected or replaced,” said Mike Danko, a member of the Northern California Fire Lawyers team.  “Nor is there any concern about the risk the failure of a ‘J’ hook would pose to human life or property.”   On the morning of November 8, 2018, a “J” hook on a transmission tower in the Caribou-Palermo line broke and the uninsulated jumper that the “J” hook was holding away from the tower contacted the tower, causing an arc and sparking that resulted in molten metal falling and igniting the vegetation below and the Camp Fire.

Families who lost loved ones in the Camp Fire, and individuals or businesses that were affected, injured, or suffered damage from the Camp Fire and would like to learn more about their legal rights in the Camp Fire PG&E Lawsuits may contact our team at 530-208-3062.  Our attorneys are providing free consultations to anyone affected by the Camp Fire.  We pride ourselves on being there for our clients at every stage of the litigation, providing help and legal assistance in the immediate aftermath of the fire, all the way through settlement.

About Northern California Fire Lawyers

Northern California Fire Lawyers is a team of more than 30 attorneys from a coalition of three Northern California law firms: Corey, Luzaich, de Ghetaldi & Riddle, Danko Meredith and Gibbs Law Group.  Collectively, our fire lawyers have more experience investigating and bringing claims against PG&E than any law firm in California.  Our attorneys have been appointed by California judges to leadership positions in some of the largest fire and disaster cases, including the Butte Fire Cases, 2017 and 2018 PG&E Fire Cases, and San Bruno Explosion lawsuits.

We have earned hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements and verdicts for our clients, and members of our team have been honored for their work with numerous awards, including “Top Plaintiff Lawyers in California,” “Trial Lawyer of the Year,” and “Top Women Lawyers in Northern California,” among others.

Call 530-208-3062 for a free consultation with one of our fire lawyers.