Fire Survivor to Make Final Plea Against PG&E Victim Settlement

A victim of the 2017 Tubbs Fire is asking a judge to overturn his approval of PG&E's $13.5 billion settlement with lawyers representing tens of thousands of fire survivors. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

When the latest hearing in PG&E's bankruptcy takes place Tuesday, the judge overseeing the case will consider a motion from Tubbs Fire victim William Abrams, whose home was destroyed in the 2017 blaze.

Abrams is taking what might seem like a counterintuitive position: He's asking Judge Dennis Montali to overturn his approval of PG&E's $13.5 billion settlement with lawyers representing tens of thousands of fire survivors like Abrams.

Among a sea of lawyers that regularly pack into Montali's San Francisco courtroom, Abrams is often the only fire victim present.

He says the lawyers who negotiated the multibillion dollar deal with PG&E haven't done an adequate job educating survivors about how it would work.

"... [V]ictims are starting to learn what is in the [agreement] and expressing that it is inconsistent with their best interest," Abrams wrote in a court filing ahead of Tuesday's hearing.

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The settlement is a key pillar of PG&E's plan to emerge from bankruptcy by June 30. The utility needs to finalize its Chapter 11 exit by that deadline in order to draw from a special fund created by Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers to insulate California's utilities from future fire liabilities.

Cal Fire investigators have found PG&E equipment has caused several of California's deadliest fires in recent years.

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Abrams' plea to Montali doesn't rest solely on the premise that survivors are being led into an unfavorable deal. He also says it fails to ensure that PG&E will make long-term investments in its grid.

Abrams' critics argue such concerns are beyond the jurisdiction of the bankruptcy court, an argument that Montali has indicated in previous hearings that he agrees with.

In a court filing responding to Abrams' claims, attorneys for PG&E said the settlement with victims's attorneys was the product of "hard-fought, good faith, and arms' length negotiations" among the parties, adding that it's in the "best interests of all Fire Victims."

PG&E's lawyers are asking Montali to dismiss Abrams' proposal to send the utility and survivors' lawyers back to the drawing board.