PG&E says it will pay San Bruno blast victims, but trial date set for lawsuits

AP file photo

A collection of San Bruno residents impacted by a deadly 2010 PG&E pipeline explosion will likely have their day in court with a lawsuit seeking punitive damages.

At a case management hearing on the lawsuit in Redwood City on Friday, a judge set a trial date and asked the utility company to clarify an admission of negligence it made earlier this week.

On Tuesday, PG&E said that it would accept financial responsibility for the natural gas pipeline blast in San Bruno's Crestmoor Canyon neighborhood in September 2010 that killed eight people, injured 52 others and destroyed 38 homes.

PG&E said that means it will compensate all of the victims for the injuries they suffered as a result of the accident.

An attorney for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, however, said that PG&E's admission was little more than a publicity stunt.

“It does nothing to expedite resolution of the case,” attorney Frank Pitre said today after the case management hearing. “It was a meaningless gesture.”

Pitre said he urged the court to require PG&E to evaluate whether it would admit that the litany of failure outlined by a National Transportation Safety Board report was true and accurate and that the utility was the sole and exclusive cause of the harm to neighborhood residents.

“(The admission) is a very narrow and small sliver of what issues are in dispute in this case,” Pitre said.

The next case management conference for the lawsuit will be held Jan. 19, 2012, at 9:30 a.m., which is when PG&E will respond to the court's request, according to Pitre.

In addition to making that request and setting the trial date for July 23, 2012, Judge Steven L. Dylina approved the structure for the trial, which will present select cases that are representative of the plaintiffs' claims.

The trial will evaluate cases that fit into one of four categories — death, serious bodily injury, emotional distress, and non-physical damage, such as the loss of a home.

A total of 10 cases will represent those categories, with an equal number of cases being selected by plaintiffs and defendants, according to Pitre.

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