PG&E assumes civil liability in San Bruno blast

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Pacific Gas & Electric Co. officials confirmed Tuesday the company will take financial responsibility for the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion and compensate victims who have filed civil suits in the wake of the blast.

The announcement came as company attorneys prepared for a hearing Friday regarding more than 90 civil suits filed against the utility in San Mateo County Superior Court.

PG&E President Chris Johns said the company issued the statement in response to a judge’s request for an official position, but PG&E is hoping to settle cases without going to trial.

The company has not specified how much it will pay victims, nor the amount of its total liability, but the latter is expected to be in the millions of dollars.

“We thought it was more appropriate to make it very clear that we’re acknowledging our liability,” Johns said Tuesday. “PG&E is hopeful that today’s announcement will allow the families affected by this terrible tragedy to receive compensation sooner, without unnecessary legal proceedings.”

The utility previously indicated that it planned to compensate people affected by the blast, but victims later questioned whether the company had plans to hold them at fault. Johns said the acknowledged liability would apply to current and future suits filed in the San Mateo court system.

The Sept. 9, 2010 explosion in San Bruno killed eight people, injured dozens and laid waste to dozens of 1960s-era homes in the hills overlooking San Francisco Bay.

A trial date has been set for July 23, 2012, but attorneys for the plaintiffs and the San Francisco-based company are still figuring out a process so that suits filed by victims and their families can be brought to trial as a group.

Lawsuits brought against PG&E by shareholders will be heard separately.

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