Missouri and Illinois residents who have been affected by gas pipeline explosions and fires know just how devastating such incidents can be. Last week, we briefly mentioned the 2010 gas pipeline explosion in another state which devastated an entire neighborhood, killing eight people and destroying several dozen homes. The gas pipeline explosion and fire reportedly occurred due to various violations of both federal and state regulations governing safety standards on the part of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E). Recently, administrative law judges in that state found the utility company had engaged in nearly 4,000 infractions of “laws, rules, standards or regulations in the operation of its gas transmission system.”
As a result, the regulatory judges levied a $1.4 billion fine against PG&E, which will consist of $950 million that must go to a state fund, $400 million to go toward pipeline improvements, and $50 million earmarked to improve pipeline safety. The utility company is prohibited from attempting to seek any of those fees from its own customers. An earlier $635 million fine issued against the company cannot be recovered from customers either. This recent penalty handed down by the administrative judges represents the most significant safety fine ever implemented by this particular state agency.
Previously, the biggest safety-related fine levied had been $38 million against the same utility company for a natural gas explosion back in 2008. In addition to the penalties leveled by the California Public Utilities Commission, PG&E has also been accused of criminal allegations by the federal government. According to federal prosecutors, the company allegedly committed 27 counts of safety requirement violations, along with one count of lying to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators after the deadly 2010 explosion. A conviction of all the charges could mean another $1 billion (or more) in fines for PG&E.
At the heart of the matter are claims that PG&E admittedly violated both state and federal regulations related to pipeline safety. Compounding this issue are further charges that the company lied about its compliance with regulations. The NTSB alleged that a welding weakness in the pipeline caused the rupture and resulting explosion; however, PG&E records inaccurately reported that section of pipeline as being “smooth” and without welding. Federal officials also believe that the utility company did not shut off the natural gas flowing through the ruptured pipeline for well over an hour-and-a-half after the gas pipeline explosion and fire.
This utility company could face even further legal problems in the wake of these state and federal investigations. Those who are injured or killed due to the negligence of others typically have rights under personal injury and wrongful death laws to seek financial restitution in civil courts of law. A successful claim can result in awards to victims allowing them to cover medical and other related expenses, and could also consist in punitive damages assessed against a defendant to discourage them from future negligent actions.
My St. Louis personal injury law firm can be reached, toll-free, at 1-888-586-7041 if you wish to learn more about your rights under these personal injury and wrongful death laws in Missouri and Illinois. Victims of a gas pipeline explosion and fire should not have to suffer due to the negligence of a utility company. We are experienced in filing these kinds of civil claims, and in the steps that a defendant may attempt to try and weaken your own case. Please contact us as soon as possible to schedule a free initial consultation and find out more about how we can help you with your case on a contingency basis.
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