Los Angeles

San Bruno Fire Victim Says Famous Attorney Holding Back on PG&E Settlement Payout

One of the victims of the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion filed a lawsuit Wednesday that claims his high-profile attorney – portrayed in the film "Erin Brockovich" – is keeping too much money PG&E paid to compensate for his severe injuries and trauma.

Joseph Ruigomez suffered burns over 90 percent of his body in the gas explosion that claimed the life of his girlfriend, Jessica Morales, back in September 2010.

“You just got to pound it in your head, she would want you to be happy; try not to let those thoughts torment you … move on,” was how Ruigomez described his ordeal at a San Bruno memorial back in 2015.

But now he says that he is a victim again – accusing his attorney of withholding money that is still owed out of the sum PG&E paid to compensate him.

In a suit filed Wednesday, lawyers for Ruigomez and his family name Thomas V. Girardi and his firm, Girardi Keese in Los Angeles in the dispute, but do not say how much money is at issue.

The suit claims they are liable for breach of contract for not paying Ruigomez and his family the remaining balance from the original PG&E settlement.

Overall, the utility paid out about $500 million to resolve suits over the blast that left eight people dead and destroyed the Crestmoor neighborhood.

Girardi was famously depicted as fighting PG&E in the film "Erin Brockovich." He is enjoying a second round of celebrity status now as the husband of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star Erika Jayne.

A family spokeswoman said Ruigomez is banking on the balance of the settlement to pay for more surgeries over his lifetime to more fully recuperate from his extensive burns. He’s already had 30 procedures.

“It’s been almost nine years since that horrific day in San Bruno,” Ruigomez said in a statement Wednesday. “We're finding it more difficult with each passing cycle, and all I want is to conclude our dealings with Girardi Keese, so our family can try to put this behind us.”

Girardi told NBC Bay Area in a statement that he “quite honestly, did a spectacular job’’ in the case, and is now following a schedule of payments that the family requested. His statement reads, “We kept the money in trust, and then there was a request for him to get the funds. We sent them half of it as requested, and we informed him he could get the other half July 7. On July 7, we will send the additional $5 million, and we will then calculate the interest."

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