Court mistake reveals $2M PG&E blast payout 

click to enlarge Toll: At least 400 plaintiffs approached PG&E after the fatal San Bruno blast. - GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO
  • Getty Images File Photo
  • Toll: At least 400 plaintiffs approached PG&E after the fatal San Bruno blast.

The confidential court settlement for a teenage girl who was burned in the 2010 San Bruno PG&E pipeline explosion was mistakenly released earlier this month by San Mateo County Superior Court officials due to a “technology error.”

The mistake — first reported by the San Mateo County Times — was on public display beginning Aug. 21, but was rectified Thursday, according to court officials. The details of the deal are the first glimpse into the type of settlements being offered by the utility to victims of the blast, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

According to the newspaper, the utility paid the unidentified minor a total of $2.5 million, including $19,400 for medical expenses and $667,700 for attorney fees.

In all, the disaster has pitted at least 400 plaintiffs against PG&E, which utility spokeswoman Brittany Chord said has paid out $145 million so far in settlements for personal injury and property damage. Chord said PG&E expects that tab to total $455 million after all the claims are resolved.

Officials called the technology error a matter of great concern and said steps have been taken to avoid such software malfunctions in the future.

The settlement revelation comes at a time when PG&E is facing a 48-plaintiff class-action lawsuit, court claims from a former engineer that the company was warned about the faulty pipeline well in advance of the disaster, and a $10 million ad campaign designed to restore its public image.

PG&E CEO Anthony Earley, in his position for a year now, sends the message in new radio and television ads that he arrived to find a company that had “lost its way.” Earley spoke with reporters Thursday in The City to say even though the company still has a “lot of work left,” safety is the “highest priority” and he wants all litigation against the utility to be resolved by year’s end.

A confidential report recently commissioned by state regulators said the company could absorb $2.55 billion in post-disaster costs and still remain viable, but PG&E disputes that figure.

“We disagree wholeheartedly with the report,” Chord said, “and it’s important for California and for our customers that we are a strong company.”

Chord added that PG&E is coordinating a $2.2 billion plan to update pipelines through the end of 2014. Some $1.5 billion in shareholder funds have already been spent on the effort, she said, but residential ratepayers may also be asked for $2 more per bill as a result of the upgrades.

“We want to have one of the safest gas systems in the United States,” she said.

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

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Dan Schreiber

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