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A lawsuit was filed Feb. 5 against Southern California Edison, Edison International and The Boeing Company.
Lauren Coughlin, Editor
2:34 pm PST February 11, 2019

Litigation is piling up in regard to the Woolsey Fire, which a recent lawsuit deems “negligently started and wholly preventable.”

The lawsuit was filed Feb. 5 on behalf of 90 plaintiffs — some of whom also represent their children — who were impacted by the fire. It alleges that negligence as well as violations of the California Health and Safety Code by Southern California Edison, Edison International and The Boeing Company led to the catastrophic, 96,949-acre wildfire. It also alleges that SCE violated the California Public Utilities Code.

Attorney Ronald L.M. Goldman, of Los Angeles-based Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman, is among the five attorneys who filed the lawsuit. 

“Despite obvious and predictable signs and warnings of extreme fire conditions, [SCE and Boeing] failed to act to control their property and protect adjoining and other property,” the lawsuit states, referencing Boeing’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory site in Simi Valley and SCE’s Chatsworth substation. 

SCE, the lawsuit states, failed to maintain its overhead electrical facilities in a safe manner, perform vegetation management in accordance with applicable regulations, and proactively shut down the Big Rock 16kV circuit to prevent the fire. 

Boeing, it adds, also failed to perform vegetation management as well as failed “to have an adequate fire prevention program or have adequately trained fire suppression personnel in place to prevent the types of fires that were reasonably anticipated [in dry, Santa Ana conditions].”

The lawsuit further alleges that the burning of Boeing’s SSFL site and Rocketdyne rocket debris areas “[put] Southern Californians at additional risk of damages and complicated, long-lasting health issues.”

C.J. Nothum, of the communications department at Boeing, stated that: “Security and fire personnel stationed at Santa Susana immediately responded when the fire was first reported and also promptly notified firefighting agencies. Upon arrival, the county and municipal fire jurisdictions established incident command over the firefighting activities.” 

The lawsuit tells a different story, stating that Boeing allowed the fire to move across its property, and that Boeing’s “firefighting efforts were reportedly wholly absent, including an insufficient supply of water.” Those details were attributed to a Los Angeles Times article in which officials from the Ventura County Fire Department stated that they did not see or communicate with Boeing firefighters.

Nothum added that Boeing is fully cooperating with two investigations into the fire, which are being conducted by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (also known as Cal Fire), as well as the California Public Utilities Commission.

Cal Fire, along with the Ventura County Fire Department, are charged with determining the cause of the Woolsey Fire. Last month, Scott Dettorre, a public information officer with the VCFD, told the Surfside that the cause is not expected to be announced until “sometime this summer.”

Southern California Edison also weighed in on the lawsuit, releasing the following statement on Feb. 7: “At this time, SCE is not commenting on any lawsuits associated with the Woolsey Fire, as an ongoing investigation is underway by Cal Fire and Ventura County Fire. SCE is fully cooperating in their investigation.”

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include property owners, renters and business owners, all of whom “suffered varying types of injuries, damages, losses, and harm as a result of the Woolsey Fire,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit seeks reimbursement of costs related to property damages, living expenses, business interruption, injuries and damages, and legal fees.

The Woolsey Fire began at E Street and Alfa Road on the Santa Susana Field Lab property. It destroyed 1,500 structures and damaged 341 structures, including hundreds in the City of Malibu. The fire also is responsible for the deaths of three civilians and the injuries of three firefighters between Nov. 8, 2018 and Nov. 21, 2018.

Other litigation

For some in Southern California, the latest string of lawsuits may bring about deja vu.

The Thomas Fire, which destroyed 1,063 structures in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in December 2017, sparked a barrage of lawsuits against Southern California Edison.

Alexander Robertson, IV, of Robertson & Associates, represents more than 450 clients in the Thomas Fire and, as of Feb. 7, said he had filed four complaints on behalf of approximately 400 clients, including several Malibu residents, who were impacted by the Woolsey Fire.

“To date there have been a total of 32 separate lawsuits filed arising from the Woolsey Fire on behalf of approximately 700 plaintiffs,” Robertson wrote in an email to the Surfside News. “Our legal team represents 57 percent of those plaintiffs who have filed lawsuits to date.” 

Southern California Edison was previously fined over the 3,836-acre Malibu Canyon fire of 2007, for which the public utilities company paid the state $37 million in fines. In the subsequent settlement between SCE and the CPUC’s Safety and Enforcement Division, SCE admitted that it violated the Public Utilities Code by failing to take prompt action to prevent the
overloading of its pole and also was ordered to remediate any substandard poles to avoid a repeat of the damage the 2007 fire caused.

Robertson is seeking a motion to have all Woolsey Fire cases assigned to a single judge in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Coordinating the cases in this manner, he explained, benefits all plaintiffs and eliminates “the risk of inconsistent rulings.”