Lawsuits start to pile up in disaster’s wake

Though PG&E Corp. has tried to forestall expensive lawsuits with well-publicized programs for the victims of the San Bruno fire, the flood has begun.

Five lawsuits were filed Tuesday in San Mateo County Superior Court, and at least three dozen more are expected in the next two weeks.

The first individual lawsuits came from a victim who lost three members of her family, a woman disfigured by the flames, a pregnant woman who ran with her three children from the flames, a family whose home was demolished by the fire and a woman who has now survived two natural-gas explosions.

The lawsuits also argue that PG&E should not be allowed to rebuild its pipeline in the neighborhood.

Terror ran through a suburban neighborhood in San Bruno after PG&E’s 30-inch pipeline carrying pressurized natural gas ruptured and gushed into flames on Sept. 9. Eight people were killed, dozens injured, 37 homes flattened and an entire neighborhood evacuated.

Almost immediately, PG&E created a $100 million fund for victims. Since then, it has offered to purchase properties from victims, pay for home improvements and offer bonuses to victims who rebuild quickly.

But these programs are hardly altruistically motivated, said attorney Ara Jabagchourian, one of the lawyers representing the five lawsuits.

“PG&E is not a charity. PG&E is not a benevolent organization. They’re a business, one that’s trying to replicate a profit of $2.3 billion and executive bonuses of $60 million,” he said. “Their charitable efforts are PR efforts to head off criticism.”

The individual complaints follow two class-action lawsuits filed earlier this month. Jabagchourian said the clients his firm represents — including about three dozen who will file complaints within the next week and a half — live in the immediate neighborhood where the fire took place.

One of Tuesday’s complaints was by Susan Bullis, who lost her husband, mother-in-law and teenage son to the fire. That lawsuit claims wrongful death and property damage due to negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and demands punitive damages.

A second lawsuit is by Jacques and Christiane Chiramberro and their daughter Anne Marie, all of whom suffered burns.

Crestmoor resident Betti Magoolaghan was eight months pregnant and sitting down to dinner with her three young children when the pipeline exploded. She “narrowly escaped death,” the family’s suit states, by running for her life, three children in tow.

All of the lawsuits demand a jury trial.

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