By Miriam Raftery
February 2, 2009 (San Diego's East County)--San Diego Gas & Electric Company has notified attorneys representing fire victims that the utility company plans to sue victims of the 2007 wildfires. The announcement has sparked an angry response from some elected officials and residents in burned-out areas of East County.
"Predictably, SDG&E's lawyers are stooping as low as possible and attempting to blame victims for the utility's failure to maintain its own system," Supervisor Dianne Jacob told East County Magazine. "It is a callous legal strategy but one that's not surprising coming from the same people pushing the tragically flawed Sunrise Powerlink."
SDG&E has been blamed by the California Public Utilities Commission and a Cal-Fire report for its power lines creating arcing that caused three of the devastating wildfires that ravaged San Diego County in 2007. SDG&E faces lawsuits by the state and county, insurance companies, and homeowners for damages suffered in the Witch Creek, Rice Canyon, and Guejito fires.
The cross-complaint by SDG&E claims homeowners are to blame for damages because they didn't take care of their properties properly. The utility has filed similar claims against several local governments and fire agencies.
"They're trying to blame the firefighters who fought the fire, the county and the city and our clients? Are you kidding me?" James P. Frantz, attorney representing homeowners threatened with the lawsuits, said in an interview with NBC. "They lost everything they owned, all the way down to their china, their family pictures, their pet rat and now they get sued by this corporation. It's wrong."
SDG&E spokesperson Stephanie Donovan said the cross-complaint raises legitimate issues about property maintenance and how it affected the spread of the fire. "It should not come as a surprise to the plaintiffs' attorneys," said Donovan, according to NBC.
Lakeside resident Mary Handfelt, whose neighbors lost their home to wildfire, drew this conclusion. "It really is sickening the way the legal system works. If you get sued, you need to taint your accuser in order to mitigate your damages. These homeowners are not liable in my view. When a corporation installs potentially hazardous items on public or private property, it is up to them to maintain those items and do whatever is necessary to protect surrounding property."