The Deadline to File Wildfire Claims With PG&E Is Monday. Here's What You Need to Know

2 min
PG&E subcontractors assess vegetation at risk for catching fire near Paradise on Nov. 13, 2018, following the Camp Fire. (Anne Wernikoff/KQED)

Wildfire victims have until Monday, Oct. 21 for compensation with PG&E.

That’s because the utility filed for bankruptcy protection, and the court wants to gather all possible claims against the utility before moving forward.

Only about half of possible claimants have filed so far, according to Amanda Riddle, an attorney for wildfire victims.

Claims can be for a range of things, from loss of property to personal injury to family heirlooms. And you don't necessarily need an attorney to file a claim.

We asked Jared Ellias, professor of bankruptcy law at UC Hastings College of the Law, what wildfire survivors need to know to file their claims with PG&E before the Monday deadline.

Why does this PG&E "bar date" exist in the first place?

One way to think about the bar date, and the bar date process, is the bankruptcy court has to identify everybody who has some sort of claim that PG&E might need to pay, and they use this process to do it. And it's the beginning of that, not the end of it. So if you file a form with the court, you're opening the door to getting something from the PG&E bankruptcy.

What's the most important thing people need to know by Monday's deadline?

The most important thing you need to know is to get things in on time. That has to happen. If that doesn't happen, your chances of getting anything from PG&E are pretty low.

Do you need a lawyer?

It would be helpful to have a lawyer, but you don't need one. You just have to fill out the form.

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And what's involved in filling out the form?

When you fill out the form, you're saying, "This is how much I estimate that PG&E owns owes me." You don't have to come to it through some scientific analysis. You can come up with your own number, so long as you have a basis for it. It can be useful to put something on the form saying "see attached" and then to write a narrative description of what you think your claims are and what you think you're owed.

Is PG&E obliged to pay on claims filed?

PG&E is not obligated to pay you just because you file a form. But it's kind of like you're signing your ticket to be part of the process. And if you don't sign up to be part of the process by filing a claim form, then you're not going to get anything out of the process.

In fact, any claim that you might have had against PG&E for, let's say, the 2017 wildfires, will be discharged and go away forever. So you really need to file a form if you think PG&E somehow owes you money.

What advice do you have on picking an amount of money to claim?

It's fine to start with a high number. And if PG&E thinks that number is too high, you'll have a process with them where they'll go back and forth with you about what they think you're actually owed. And for that, it can be helpful to have a lawyer. But right now, you don't need a lawyer at all. You just need to fill out the form. And you should probably estimate the highest number that you think is reasonable based on the damages you sustained.

What has PG&E done to let people know that this deadline is coming?

There's no question that PG&E has run the most comprehensive and ambitious public publicity campaign in Chapter 11 history. They've been running online ads. They've been running radio ads. They've been on TV. They've been in newspapers. They've been absolutely everywhere. I mean, I received a letter in the mail, and I just live in the Bay Area. I have no claim against them. So they've really done a lot in terms of getting that out there.

We hear that tens of thousands of people with eligible claims might not have filed as the deadline approaches. Why do you think that is?

I think what we're starting to realize is that maybe people still don't quite understand what the claims process is and what they need to do to be involved.

Wildfire survivors can file their claims here.

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