Woolsey Fire Updates
Below are some recent articles that we believe are important and worth reading.
On November 15, 2018, our team filed the first lawsuit against SCE for damages arising from the Woolsey Fire. Our team, friends, and family have felt the effects of SCE's negligence firsthand with the Thomas Fire, Montecito Mudslides, and now the Woolsey Fire. Our goal in this litigation is twofold: 1) to make our clients whole, and 2) force SCE to effectuate procedural changes that prevent future wildfires from occurring.
As attorneys, we feel obligated to educate our clients about their legal rights, recoverable damages, and important news and events, as the litigation proceeds. We are constantly updating our clients via newsletters, as well our Facebook page. You can follow us at:
October Lawsuit Update
September Lawsuit Update
As one of the co-lead counsel for the Individual Plaintiffs, several months ago Alex Robertson served a subpoena upon Cal Fire and Ventura County Fire Protection District to obtain a complete copy of the Woolsey Fire investigation report. In response, the California Attorney General’s Office filed a Motion to Quash our subpoenas on the grounds that there is an active and ongoing criminal investigation of SCE regarding this wildfire. Yesterday there was a hearing on the Attorney General’s motion. During this hearing, the judge met with two Deputy Attorney Generals and the lead fire investigator from Ventura County Fire Department behind closed doors in an in camera hearing. None of the lawyers in the civil case were allowed to participate, which is normal under these circumstances. Prior to meeting with the Deputy Attorney Generals, the judge expressed his skepticism over their claim that the investigation report needs to remain confidential in order to protect their criminal investigation. However, after the closed door meeting, the judge announced that the Attorney General’s Office made a strong showing to him for the need to keep the investigation report confidential until April 2020. The judge then granted the motion to quash our subpoenas, with the following exceptions:
The Court ordered that a redacted version of the investigation report be provided to all attorneys in the case for their “eyes only” and subject to the protective order (meaning we cannot share the report or its contents with anyone);
The Court ordered that the visual inspection of physical evidence removed from the area of origin by Cal Fire can proceed, but all attorney and our experts must remain three (3) feet back from and not touch or photograph the evidence;
Discovery based upon information contained in the investigation report, which is not redacted, may proceed.
Because the judge said the final investigation report will not be issued until April of 2020, he vacated the April 2020 date for the first bellwether trial. No new trial date has been set.
There are a number of take-aways from the Court’s rulings yesterday. First, it appears fairly clear that the Attorney General is taking its criminal investigation of SCE very seriously. For example, in the Thomas Fire case, the Attorney General agreed to release the fire investigation report and allowed us to depose all of the fire investigators in the civil case, even though a criminal investigation is still ongoing of SCE in that case. The fact that the Attorney General’s Office is handling the Woolsey Fire criminal investigation so differently may indicate that it expects criminal charges will be filed against SCE for causing the Woolsey Fire. The most likely way that criminal charges could be brought against SCE would be by a Grand Jury issuing an indictment. These are only done in felony cases. We have no information about what possible felonies the Attorney General is investigating against SCE. All proceedings of a Grand Jury are secret and remain confidential. There is precedent for a utility company to be convicted of a felony. A couple of years ago, PG&E was found guilty of violating federal pipeline safety regulations concerning the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion, which killed 8 people and destroyed a residential neighborhood. PG&E was sentenced to pay a $3 Million dollar fine, barred from passing on the fine to its ratepayers, its executives ordered to perform 2,000 hours of community service, and put on a five year probation.
We intend to proceed with taking depositions of the first-responders to the fire, concerning the location of the fire’s origin, as well as conducting discovery concerning the design, construction, maintenance and inspection of SCE’s overhead electrical equipment located in the area of origin identified in the redacted report.
Now that the judge has vacated the April 2020 first bellwether trial date, we have requested an extension of the deadlines for the non-bellwether clients to respond to the Damages Questionnaires and Request For Production of documents, which currently are due on October 31st. For our potential Bellwether clients, we continue to prepare their responses, and get their cases ready for the selection process. An article published today in the Ventura County Star newspaper about yesterday’s hearing can be viewed at: https://www.vcstar.com/story/news/local/communities/simi-valley/2019/09…
August Woolsey Updates
Our legal team is working hard with the leadership team to get the Thomas and Woolsey Fire cases ready for trial. Team members are reviewing thousands of pages of documents and taking depositions of SCE's key safety employees, Cal Fire investigators, and first-responders. The first trials for the bellwether plaintiffs are set to start in January (for the Thomas) and February for (Woolsey). You can learn more about the trials here:
In addition, our team submitted plaintiff fact sheets on behalf of over 600 plaintiffs to the court, as ordered by the judge at a prior status conference. Team members are also working with our clients that were randomly selected to be potential trial plaintiffs to complete the damage questionnaires the the judge required completed. Our goal is to move these cases along as quickly as possible, so that our clients can be made whole as soon as possible.
July Woolsey Fire Litigation Update
Our lawyers were in court again, for the July Status conference. As we mentioned prior, Alex Robertson was picked as co-lead counsel for the litigation, and three of our attorneys serve on the leadership team. We currently represent nearly 1/3 of all the plaintiffs in the litigation. As we have stated prior, these cases our personal to our legal team.
February 2020 Bellwether Trial
As we previously reported, the Court has set a trial date of February 24, 2020 for the first bellwether trial. A bellwether trial is used to try a representative group of cases to verdict in order to inform the parties on (1) whether a jury will hold SCE liable for causing the Thomas fire, and (2) what amount of damages a jury will award a typical plaintiff for such things as real property damages, emotional distress damages and the like. We anticipate that the results of the bellwether trial will be used by SCE and the plaintiffs to hopefully negotiate settlements of the remaining cases.
The Court has determined that there will be four (4) plaintiffs chosen from each of the following four categories of damages to be included in this first bellwether trial:
a) Homeowner (burn-downs)
b) Tenant (burn-downs)
c) Agricultural losses
d) Smoke & soot claims
In order to ensure that the bellwether plaintiffs are randomly selected, the Court has ordered that the following process be followed. First, a list of 99 plaintiffs has been randomly selected from the master list of all plaintiffs whose cases have been coordinated. From this pool of 99, all plaintiffs who do not claim homeowner property loss or agricultural losses will be removed. The Court has ruled that the first bellwether trial will include only homeowner and agricultural losses.
Those selected in that initial pool must then complete damages questionnaires describing their damage claims by September 13th. By September 27th, those bellwether pool plaintiffs must also produce documents supporting their damage claim. On October 14th, each side will propose 6 bellwether plaintiffs from the homeowner category and 6 plaintiffs from theagricultural category (total of 24 plaintiffs). On October 23rd, each side is to strike 3 of the other side’s bellwether plaintiff selections from each category, leaving a total of 12 potential bellwether plaintiffs (6 from each category). On October 25th, each side will submit its remaining 6 bellwether plaintiff selections to the Court. On November 1st, the Court will select one primary and two alternate bellwether plaintiffs who claim homeowner property losses, and one primary and two alternate bellwether plaintiffs who claim agricultural losses. This process is designed to prevent each side from “cherry-picking” their most favorable cases to be included in the bellwether trial. Once the random selections have been made, we will advise you if your case has been chosen.
We have served the initial round of written discovery upon SCE. Additionally, we served a subpoena on Boeing asking for any videotape or photographs taken at the Rocketdyne facility documenting the start of the fire. We also have negotiated with the California Attorney General’s Office (which represents CAL FIRE) to conduct a visual inspection of the electrical equipment the investigators seized during their investigation for July 26th.
The lead investigative agency for the Woolsey Fire is Ventura County Fire Department, as the fire started in Ventura County. CAL FIRE is a co-lead investigative agency. We have been told by counsel for Ventura County that the investigation report will be released by the end of this month. This report will conclude the cause and origin of the fire. We expect the conclusion to point to SCE’s electrical equipment as the cause of the fire.
Several organizations have banded together to offer free group therapy to Woolsey Fire Survivors. You can learn more by clicking:
Woolsey Fire Support Group Meetings
June Litigation Update
On June 26, 2019, we attended another of the many Case Management Conferences (“CMC”) held in your case to date. The CMC was conducted by Judge William Highberger, the judge presiding over all Woolsey Fire cases. Attending the CMC, in addition to your attorneys, were many other attorneys representing other plaintiffs who suffered damage to their homes or businesses, as well as attorneys for those governmental entitles suing Edison for their respective damages. During the CMC Judge Highberger made several significant rulings, as discussed below.
The Initial Trial is Scheduled
Over the objections of Edison, Judge Highberger set the first trial to be held in the Woolsey Fire matter for February 10, 2020. The trial will allow a sample cross-section of plaintiffs to try their cases against Edison. We refer to this type of trial as a “bellwether trial” meaning that the outcome of the trial will present Edison and us with a non-binding indicator or predictor of the respective monetary value of the many different types of claims in the cases. These claims would necessarily include, emotional distress, property damage, damage to crops and agriculture, damage to landscaping and specimen trees, etc.
Judge Highberger has indicated that he anticipates approximately eight plaintiffs to try their cases in February with two plaintiffs from each of the following types of cases: damage or loss of an owned single-family home, damage to agriculture, loss or damage of a rented home and smoke and soot damage to a residence. Just how the first plaintiffs will be selected remains to be worked out and it may be that the selection process will be random in some respects. We are currently in discussions with the other attorneys in the case to reach a consensus on the selection process but Judge Highberger will make the final decision on the matter.
We anticipate that the Judge will set trials every 45 to 90 days for the balance of the cases but this too remains to be worked out with the Judge yet again making the final decision. Judge Highberger is insisting, over Edison’s objections, that the trials take place sooner rather than later, and we are in full agreement with the judge on this point.
Judge Highberger Appoints Alex Robertson as Lead Counsel for Plaintiffs and Robert Curtis and Joseph Liebman to the Plaintiffs' Leadership Committee
Judge Highberger appointed Alex Robertson, to be one of three lead attorneys in the case, with the responsibility to more or less run the entire case as to all non-government plaintiffs. This appointment is in recognition of Alex’ significant expertise in trials of large natural catastrophic disasters as well as in recognition of the fact that we represent one of the largest blocks of plaintiffs in the case.
Robert Curtis and Joseph Liebman were appointed to the plaintiff’s leadership committee and are responsible, with others on the committee, for assisting in the actual prosecution of the cases and readying them for trial. These appointments are significant and important.
Once a trial date is set in any case, the attorneys for the defense begin to consider how to resolve the case without the necessity of proceeding to trial. This a reality in almost all civil cases. We anticipate now that we have our first trial date, that Edison will begin to assess the need to propose a mediation or settlement protocol that will involve all cases.
May Litigation Update
On May 7, 2019, members of your legal team attended the first court hearing conducted in your cases before Judge Highberger, in the Los Angeles Superior Court (all Woolsey fire cases were transferred to this judge). At the “Initial Status Conference,” Judge Highberger discussed with the fifty-or-so attorneys, how he anticipates managing the current Woolsey Fire cases (in excess of 1,500 plaintiffs currently), to expedite them and get them ready for trial.
The judge then scheduled another status conference for May 14, 2019, which we attended, to address such issues as the leadership structure for plaintiffs, SCE’s’s motion to disqualify a law firm from this litigation. SCE has argued that the law firm participated in joint strategy sessions with SCE while representing SDG&E and PG&E (investor owned utilities) in past wildfire cases. The law firm disputes SCE's contentions and has opposed SCE's attempt to have it disqualified. The judge has scheduled another status conference for May 30, 2019 at which time we expect him to issue his decisions and orders on such matters as leadership structure for plaintiffs, Edison’s motion to disqualify,as well as potential trial dates, the possible release of the CalFire report and when that might occur, in addition to the following matters.
1. Appointment of a Leadership Team to Oversee the Litigation
One of the most important issues discussed at the status conference was the creation of a leadership team for this complex case. The leadership team will oversee the pre-trial discovery process and prepare the cases for trial. The court wanted to create a team that could work cohesively, and that represents the interests of many different parties in this litigation, including, individual plaintiffs (homeowners, renters, businesses, etc.), insurance companies, and governmental entities. Under the current proposed leadership structure (which is endorsed by over 50 firms), Alex Robertson will serve as co-lead counsel, and team members Joe Liebman and Robert Curtis will serve on the executive committee. The court will most likely rule on which attorneys will serve on leadership at the next hearing set for May 30, 2019.
2. When and how should discovery be conducted in this case?
As these are complex cases, the judge wants to be actively involved in the discovery process. Discovery is the phase of litigation when parties are entitled to obtain pertinent information from the opposing side. Parties can, among other things: request documents be produced, and have their questions answered under oath. The court is allowing limited discovery at this juncture, having stayed all other discovery, excepted some very targeted and limited discovery, pending the next status conference later this month. We expect the judge to set new deadlines and give guidance on how he sees the case proceeding; we will update you after attending.
3. How will the court handle preference cases?
Legally, if a plaintiff is over 70 and has health issues, or is terminally ill with 6 months to live, that party can petition the court for “preference,” to have their case heard earlier. The court must set a trial date no more than 120 days after granting such a motion. During the conference, the judge stated that he will want to consider just how preference cases will be handled and we expect this issue to be discussed on May 30th.
4. Should inverse condemnation apply to SCE?
SCE is challenging the application of the legal theory of inverse condemnation to your cases. Inverse condemnation has been applied to California wildfires for over twenty years. Application of inverse condemnation essentially results in strict liability for the utilities: meaning it is necessary only to prove they started the fire, rather than the higher burden of proving negligence (the standard utilities are seeking to be held to). You can learn more about inverse condemnation here: http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-utilities-wildfir…
PG&E lost its challenge to inverse condemnation in the 2015 Butte Fire and 2017 North Bay Fires, and SCE lost its challenge in the 2017 Thomas Fire case. SCE’s motion on inverse condemnation is currently set to be heard on August 15, 2019. We expect the judge will deny SCE's Motion
5. When will the CalFire report be issued in the Woolsey Fire?
As many of you recently read in the media, CalFire recently released its report on the cause and origin of the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire fire in California history. That fire started on November 8, 2018, the same day the Woolsey Fire began. Given that CalFire just released its report on the Camp Fire, we expect the report on the Woolsey Fire to be released in the near future. Historically, CalFire took around 6 months to release a report. However, recently, CalFire has been taking longer to issue its reports.
6. CalFire investigation into the cause and origin of the Woolsey Fire.
We recently obtained an itemization of the items taken by CalFire when they inspected the two ignition points of the Woolsey Fire on November 19, 2018. The itemization is attached to this letter as Exhibit A. Items taken include, among other things: guy wires, lashing wires, the top of wooden pole, and jumpers. If you want to learn more about our investigation into the cause of the Woolsey Fire (which includes our theory of how the fire started and the supporting evidence), you can view our website at: http://www.woolseylawyers.com/about-the-woolsey-fire
March Litigation UpdateAs we stated in our prior update, the Court granted our petition to coordinate the Woolsey Fire cases before one judge in Los Angeles Superior Court. The Court has assigned the Honorable William F. Highberger to oversee the cases. We are waiting for Judge Highberger to schedule an initial status conference.
Near the time of the first status conference, the judge will assign a leadership team to prosecute the case and will issue orders relating to the timing of discovery. The leadership team will be composed of experienced attorneys for the individual plaintiffs, insurance companies, and governmental entities who are all suing Southern California Edison (SCE). We anticipate that we will occupy key leadership positions in the case, given our experience, leadership roles we currently hold in the Thomas Fire cases, and the many, many clients we represent.
We anticipate that SCE will do everything in its power to drag this case out for as long as it can, but neither we nor the Court will allow this to happen. SCE’s goal is to delay this case past the 2-year mark, which is the statute of limitations for emotional distress claims. If SCE is able to do this, then people who have claims for only emotional distress, and have not yet filed suit, will no longer be able to sue SCE.
In past wildfire cases, the utility defendants began to discuss settlement on average approximately eighteen to twenty months after the fire. Our goal will be to have the judge set a trial date, and exert pressure on SCE through discovery, so that SCE will push to get your matters settled rather than face a jury trial. It is our belief that SCE does not want to have this happen.
Cal Fire Finds Edison at Fault for the 2017 Thomas Fire
While the cause of the Woolsey Fire is still under investigation by Cal Fire, the state agency vested with the obligation and authority to investigate the cause and origin of the fire, Cal Fire recently released its reports into the cause of the 2017 Thomas Fire, which burned over 280,000 acres and destroyed over 1,000 structures. You can learn more about Cal Fire’s findings on the Thomas Fire below:
Cal Fire found the first ignition—above Steckel Park, in Anlauf Canyon—was caused by SCE’s powerlines contacting each other during high winds (“line slap”). This contact produced “molten aluminum particles,” which fell onto dry vegetation, igniting the fire. The full report available here: http://www.vcfd.org/images/news/Koenigstein-Fire-Investigative-Report_R…
In its second report, Cal Fire similarly found SCE’s equipment caused the Thomas Fire’s subsequent ignition, at Koenigstein Road, in Santa Paula: finding an energized conductor separated near a pole, resulting in an electrical arc. This arc resulted in molten metal being deposited on the ground below, which sparked the second ignition. The full report is available here: http://www.vcfd.org/images/news/Thomas-Fire-Investigation-Report_Redact…
Cal Fire’s findings have confirmed our conclusions on the Thomas Fire’s origins, which we alleged in the complaints we filed back in December 2017 against SCE. As you may recall from our last update, Cal Fire recently found SCE at fault for the Road Runner fire, which started in Thousand Oaks, around 1 ½ hours prior to the Woolsey Fire. You can learn more about our initial investigation into the cause of the Woolsey Fire, as well as the Road Runner Fire, at our website:
SCE's Fourth Quarter Wildfire ChargeMany clients have inquired about SCE’s ability to pay claims arising from the Thomas and Woolsey Fires. SCE has a twenty-billion-dollar market cap, adequate insurance, and access to capital markets. Recently, in their 4th quarter earnings call, SCE stated they expect to pay $1.8 billion, after insurance and tax benefits, for damages arising from the: Thomas Fire, Montecito Debris Flow, and Woolsey Fire. Learn more about SCE’s statements on its wildfire liability below:
February Litigation Update
JCCP Petition:In December 2018, our team filed a JCCP petition with the Judicial Council of California to coordinate the Woolsey Fire cases. This was also done in the Thomas Fire cases. A petition is typically filed in cases where multiple, complex lawsuits are filed in multiple counties that involve the same or similar facts and/or circumstances. The effect of the cases being designated by the Judicial Council as a JCCP is to coordinate all of the lawsuits that were, and will be, filed in front of one judge for pre-trial purposes.
The reason the JCCP procedure exists is for situations such as the Woolsey Fire. It allows efficiency by having one judge make decisions concerning the case as a whole. The alternative would be to have thousands of lawsuits pending before numerous judges, with the potential for inconsistent rulings, and added delay and confusion. A single judge managing the cases will enable him or her to become familiar with the case, control the pace of the litigation, make appropriate rulings and orders to ensure that the parties get access to evidence, and set realistic trial dates.
On February 19, 2019, the Judicial Council issued an order granting our petition. The cases are to be assigned to one judge in the Complex Litigation Department of the Superior Court of Los Angeles. We are currently using the JCCP procedure in the 2017 Thomas Fire cases, and believe the same judge, Hon. Daniel Buckley, may be assigned.
After a judge is assigned to your case, he or she will set an initial status conference. Around the time of the first status conference, the judge will assign a leadership team to prosecute the case, and the judge will issue orders relating to the timing of discovery. The leadership team will be composed of experienced attorneys for the individual plaintiffs, insurance companies, and governmental entities. Under the rules governing discovery (the means by which we obtain evidence), we will be allowed to obtain evidence necessary for proving SCE’s liability for the Woolsey Fire. Among other things, we can request documents from SCE, take sworn depositions, and have SCE respond to written questions under oath. We expect the judge to bifurcate discovery to focus on liability first (for example, the cause and origin of the fire), and then later damages (this will involve questions about your personal damages).
As we have told many of you during prior conversations, we believe SCE will do everything in its power to drag this case out for as long as it can. SCE’s goal is to delay this case past the 2-year mark, which is the statue of limitations for emotional distress claims. If SCE is able to do this, then people who have claims for only emotional distress, and have not filed a claim, will no longer be able to file claims. In past wildfire cases, the utility defendants started to discuss settlement on average approximately a year and eight months after the fire. Our goal will be to have the judge set a trial date, and exert pressure on SCE through discovery, so that SCE will push to get your matters settled rather than face a jury trial. It is our belief that SCE does not want to have this matter tried in front of a jury. As the Thomas Fire case proceeds against SCE, we should get more insight into SCE’s litigation and settlement strategy.
Recent Woolsey Fire and Lawsuit News Articles
Experts warn of increased wildfires this summer:
Interview with lawyer Alex Robertson about Thomas Fire and Woolsey Fire trial dates:
Judge in Woolsey Fire cases disqualifies law firm from representing fire victims based on conflict of interest:
PG&E's BK Judge approves $105 million compensation fund to aid Camp Fire survivors:
As Paradise recovers from the Camp Fire, PG&E commits to undergrounding power lines:
CalFire issues report finding PG&E's power lines at fault for causing the Camp Fire, which caused the loss of over 18,000 structures and 88 lives:
Crews have removed 250,000 pounds of debris from the 2018 Woolsey and Hill Fire burn areas:
LA County Sues SCE for $100 million in damages relating to the 2018 Woolsey Fire:
Interview with Alex Robertson regarding Cal Fire's report, which found SCE at fault for starting the 2017 Thomas Fire:
Another lawsuit filed against SoCal Edison over the Woolsey Fire. Woolsey Fire Lawyers' Alex Robertson is interviewed about the status of our case:
Woolsey fire hazardous clean up nears 100% completion:
Seventh lawsuit filed against Edison over the Woolsey Fire:
SCE unveils wildfire prevention plan after combat wildfires:
Another Woolsey Fire Lawsuit was filed against So Cal Edison:
CAL Fire Report Finds So Cal Edison's power lines caused the Roadrunner Fire which ignited 1-1/2 hours prior to the Woolsey Fire starting:
More Woolsey Fire Lawsuits filed against Sol Cal Edison:
Deluge of Storms trigger rock and mud slides in Woolsey Fire burn area:
Woolsey Fire-ravaged Malibu winery and nearby homeowners sue SCE, alleging utility started Woolsey Fire that destroyed 1,600 structures:
NBC News Article about recent lawsuit (filed on behalf of 200 individuals) against So Cal Edison over the Woolsey Fire:
Interview with Woolsey Fire Lawyer team member Joe Leibman about So Cal Edison's decision to sue the City and County of Santa Barbara over the Montecito Mudslides:
170 homeowners and businesses sue Southern California Edison after Woolsey fire
Homeowners and Business File Lawsuit Against SoCal Edison Related to Woolsey Fire
Ventura County man sues Edison alleging negligence started the Woolsey Fire
The lawsuits allege the fire was ignited by Edison's overhead electrical equipment near the Rocketdyne facility in Simi Valley.
Southern California Edison is blamed for ‘failing to maintain its overhead electrical facilities in a safe manner and perform vegetation management' in first Woolsey Fire lawsuit
NFL hall-of-famer Eric Dickerson, rare automobile collector and celebrity photographer renting out his studio to Lady Gaga are among 170 people suing Southern California electricity company for 'starting Woolsey Fire'
A Man from Ventura County is Suing Edison Claiming Negligence Started the Woolsey Fire:
Report: CPUC launches PG&E, SCE probes after 3 deadly fires:
Woolsey Fire Lawyer team member, Alex Robertson, was interviewed by Bloomberg about SCE liability for the Woolsey Fire:
Camp Fire victim: PG&E told her it needed to fix sparking transmission line day before deadly blaze:
Woolsey Fire Lawyer team member Alex Robertson interviewed by the Daily Mail about link to SCE fault and Woolsey Fire:
California’s new utility bailout law may not protect utilities from litigation expenses associated with the Woolsey Fire.
Electrical circuit went down 2 minutes before Woolsey Fire was reported, SoCal Edison says:
Edison says it is cooperating with investigators after the Woolsey Fire:
We have represented those affected by the:
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Currently, we represent over 400 survivors of the Woolsey Fire against SoCal Edison. We’d be glad to meet with you anywhere in person. We are here to assist our community with all parts of the recovery process: whether it’s completing government aid forms, working with your insurance company, or filing a legal claim – we’re here to help you.Contact Us