A majority of the victims in the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, which is the worst and most devastating fire in state history caused by Pacific Gas & Electric Company equipment in 2018, have received negligible payouts from the settlement.
PG & E equipment sparked the Camp Fire, killing at least 85 people and destroying almost 19,000 homes and businesses in and around Paradise. Those cases led to an increase in a settlement for tens of thousands of fire survivors.
The large number of the 67,000 PG&E rescue people who were involved in the company’s December 2019 relocation has yet to receive a cent, according to KQED.
However, attorneys and managers have received millions of dollars from funds set aside to assist the victims.
As the victims kept waiting, a separate Fire Victim Trust in charge of reimbursing them racked up $51 million in overhead expenses last year, KQED citing an audit reported.
According to a review of federal bankruptcy court filings, court transcripts, and communications between employees of the Fire Victim Trust and the victims themselves, the Trust allocated only $7 million to the victims over that period—less than 0.1% of the $13.5 billion pledged.
The Trust invested nearly 90% of its finances on overhead during its first year of service, as the fire survivors waited for support, according to KQED.
Trustee John Trotter said the pace of payments has picked up in recent months.
“We’re doing the best we can,” he said, acknowledging the fire survivors’ anger.
In a yearly report submitted in federal bankruptcy court last week, Trotter recorded spending $38.7 million on financial professionals, claims administrators, consultants, and other operating expenses between July 1 and the end of 2020.
According to the most updated information given to KQED by a spokesperson, the Trust said it had raised its compensation to families this year, putting a total of $255.4 million in the hands of those who have lost beloved ones, houses, and enterprises due to the PG&E fire.
This figure is even less than 2% of what families were guaranteed when they voted on the compensation last year. According to the spokesman, the Trust has been making payment arrangements to a limited number of families. Those partial payments averaged at about $13,000 have gone to 10,500 of the nearly 70,000 eligible families.
Some mass tort lawyers were busy convincing their fire survivor clients to vote for the complex deal involving part stock and park cash as PG&E neared completion of its bankruptcy last year. But some victims wrote to Judge Dennis Montali, explaining their disgust at the prospect of taking stock in the company that had caused their damage.
“Families are still living in cars, travel trailers and FEMA trailers,” Kirk Trostle, a former police sheriff who lost his home in Paradise in 2018, wrote to the judge.
“I request you speed up the process to a sprint-like manner and direct the [Fire Victim Trust] to provide transparency and accountability in the administration of the fire victims’ money,” he added.
Former California State Bar governor and seasoned bankruptcy attorney Scott McNutt told KQED that the fees charged are unreasonable for the scant results obtained thus far and that the trust “has been completely non-transparent about what it’s doing for this money.”
“One of the hallmarks of the bankruptcy process is transparency,” he added. “One of the hallmarks of trust administration is transparency. That’s why they’re called trusts.”