Thousands of additional claims have poured in since a deadline was extended for California wildfire victims to file for their share of a $13.5 billion settlement fund established by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E).
In his final report filed on Tuesday in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of California, court-appointed claims representative Michael Kasolas said more than 80,000 unique individuals have filed for relief, or about 9,000 more than the total that had been filed by the first deadline on Oct. 21. The bankruptcy court extended the deadline to Dec. 31, giving Kasolas little time to launch an expansive grassroots outreach effort to get in touch with those who were likely eligible to file claims.
Kasolas and his team identified nearly 50,000 potential fire victims that had not filed and said efforts to reach them were complicated by the fact that victims have moved to every other state in the nation except New Hampshire, Rhode Island and West Virginia.
“The successes are apparent,” his team wrote in the report of the outreach efforts, “but are also to some extent unquantifiable insofar as the claims representative is still unable to accurately estimate how many additional claims remain unfiled. Indeed, despite the claims representative outreach and education efforts, additional claims are still being filed, an indication that perhaps not everyone has been reached.”
PG&E filed for bankruptcy last January after a series of deadly fires in recent years were linked to its equipment and liabilities mounted. The settlement fund with victims was approved by the court last month.
The utility is aiming to exit bankruptcy by mid-June in the hopes of entering a fund established by California to better insulate safely operated utilities from wildfire risks in a state where they’ve shouldered plenty of the blame. There are obstacles in its path, however, as bondholders led by Elliott Management Corp. have put forward their own rival Chapter 11 exit plan.
PG&E has also reached settlements with cities, counties, insurers and other entities that exceed $10 billion.