Sacramento, CA — The state court system has determined that Butte Fire lawsuits will be consolidated — and heard in Sacramento.
As previously reported here, well over two dozen suits pertaining to the Butte Fire disaster have been filed to date; many of them with multiple plaintiffs. Although a cause has still to be publicly determined, PG&E publicly acknowledged early on that a live tree hit power lines near the ignition point. Legal firms specializing in property damage cases resulting from wildfire disasters promptly pounced on that news, shortly after which, initial case filings of suits were levied against the utility and contracting tree firms ACRT and Trees Inc. California lawmakers further queried PG&E over the matter last fall, as reported here.
As Sacramento Superior Court Public Information Officer Kim Pederson explains, the move to consolidate cases comes at the request of one or more parties to the California Judicial Council, based in San Francisco, which then considers the qualifications of the suits. “When there are multiple filers related to a singular event, if you will, [the Court] puts in some ability to coordinate those cases, and so they will be assigned, for all purposes, to one judge in the state.” As in this case, the Chief Justice from the Judicial Council, who oversees coordinated cases statewide, then makes an order and assigns the matter to a particular jurisdiction – in the case of Butte Fire matters, to Sacramento Superior Court.
Continuing, Pederson notes, “The next step is that our presiding judge, Judge Kevin Culhane, will assess workload — and who has availability and expertise in consolidated matters — and will make a permanent assignment to a judge on our bench, who will then retain all of the Butte Fire cases, from beginning to end.”
From that point on, Pederson states, the cases will be placed within a queue and handled jointly. As she points out, the benefits to this process are many: “Typically, if the same fact patterns apply to multiple cases…they can make concessions…if you will…so it saves…attorneys’…parties’…time and money — and court time. So, it is a good process.” She adds, “It is going to be a lengthy process — obviously, civil cases can take a long time once they reach the trial phase — but we are confident that Judge Culhane will select a strong judge who has experience in consolidated cases to work through the legal matters.”
According to CAL Fire, the Butte Fire, which broke out last year on Sept. 9, established itself as the state’s seventh most damaging wildfire on record. Two residents perished in the blaze, which also ravaged nearly 72,000 acres and 863 structures.