San Bruno Suits Against PG&E Stall

Thursday, Sep 8, 2011  |  Updated 6:03 AM PDT
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San Bruno Aftermath: a Look Back

AP

Alex Montoya carries shoes, clothes, and blankets after he was told to leave his home following an explosion in San Bruno, Calif., Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010. Several homes were destroyed as a massive fire roared through a mostly residential neighborhood in San Bruno. (AP Photo/Mike Adaskaveg)

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A San Mateo County Superior Court judge has decided to postpone a decision on how a lawsuit filed by victims of the pipeline explosion in San  Bruno should proceed against PG&E.
    The lawsuit involves 92 cases and 323 plaintiffs who are suing  PG&E for the Sept. 9, 2010 explosion on one of its natural gas transmission  lines in the Crestmoor Canyon neighborhood, a disaster that killed eight  people, injured dozens more and ravaged an entire neighborhood.

    After hearing arguments from attorneys for PG&E and those  representing the plaintiffs, Judge Steven Dylina said he would determine what  trial structure would best suit "the unique aspects of the case" and set a  trial date at a case management conference on Sept. 22.     Burlingame lawyer Frank Pitre, who represented attorneys for all  of the plaintiffs at today's proceedings, argued for a trial structure that  would address liability and damages collectively by presenting bellwether  cases -- select cases that best represent the entire group's claims.
    A bellwether trial would divide the claims into categories, such  as physical injury, property damage and emotional distress. A selection of  the 92 claims that best represented each category would be tried together,  and the results of the trial would be applied to all of the cases.
    "They have been tried, true and tested in a variety of forms,"  Pitre said of the bellwether structure. "All other cases would be able to  have a benchmark."
    PG&E attorney Gayle Gough said that the representative nature of a  bellwether structure would exclude most claimants from the trial process.  Gough argued that consolidating all of the cases into one liability trial,  followed by a mediation phase between the utility and each claimant to  determine a cash settlement, would suit the unique needs of each case.
    "A liability phase would allow all parties to be included," Gough  said. "PG&E is wanting to include all of these folks."
    Pitre argued that the mediation process would likely be  confidential, depriving the victims of making their settlements public or  even being able to talk about the details of their individual settlements  with their neighbors.
    "We want a public trial," Pitre said. "We do not want protracted  litigation and confidential settlements."
    Judge Dylina said that the court would prefer to see the claimants  and PG&E engage in a mediation process, but sensed resistance from the  plaintiff's attorneys.
    "I'd like to get everyone into the mediation process," Dylina  said. "I can beg, I can grovel, I can plead, but I can't order it."
    Attorneys for both sides indicated they would file legal briefs  outlining their preferred trial structure before the Sept. 22 case management  conference.
    Dylina said he would review the briefs and announce a trial  structure on Sept. 22.
    "I think we can craft this in a way that meets everyone's needs,"  he said.
 

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