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PG&E seeks to avoid paying punitive damages

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POSTED April 23, 2012 7:49 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Pacific Gas & Electric Co. wants to avoid paying punitive damages to survivors of the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion, claiming in recent court filings that the blast was an accident rather than the result of mismanagement.

PG&E faces more than 100 civil lawsuits for the pipeline explosion, which killed eight and destroyed 38 homes in the San Francisco suburb on Sept. 9, 2010. Relatives who lost family members and property are seeking punitive damages as well as millions of dollars in compensation.

Earlier this month, the company filed documents in San Mateo County Superior Court outlining its litigation strategy and accepting responsibility for the blast, in preparation for a July trial date.

But in the same filing, the company also argued that the judge presiding over the consolidated cases should reject awarding punitive damages because plaintiffs' attorneys did not prove PG&E was guilty of wrongdoing. If that is not clearly established, then punitive damages cannot be awarded.

Plaintiffs' attorneys told the San Jose Mercury News (http://bit.ly/K0ixRk) there is overwhelming evidence that the explosion was preventable.

PG&E has told investors that the company expects to spend more than $200 million to settle lawsuits, but punitive damages could bring the utility's total cost for payouts much higher.

 

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