Lawsuits fan the blame game over Round Fire

By Deb Murphy

Two years ago Swall Meadows was nearly devoured by flames fanned by erratic winds. It will take another year for a complex series of lawsuits to go to court in Los Angeles.

The Cal Fire investigation into the Round Fire leveled the blame at ”extreme winds,” going so far to say “The investigation determined SCE (Southern California Edison) had maintained tree clearance of the power lines and the tree (that brought down the power lines) could not have been identified as a hazard tree prior to the incident.”

The facts of the investigation identified the tree and the fallen power lines on or near the property of Walt Schober. According to the report, one of the tree’s three main root systems were decayed and aligned with the direction of the wind. “The weakness in the tree and the high winds combined to cause the tree to fall,” the report states. “…the weakness would not have been visible prior to the event.”

But insurance companies can’t recoup payments paid to homeowners from Mother Nature, so Bergan Kahn of Irvine, the law firm representing five insurance companies, filed suit February 2016 against Southern California Edison, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the land owner, Utility Tree Service, under contract for maintenance with SCE and LADWP, Mobray’s Tree Service, a subcontractor to Utility and 50 potential Does. According to court documents, a total of 10 lawsuits resulted from the fire, all of which have been consolidated into one complex trial slated for late January 2018.

The Bergan Kahn suit alleges negligence on the part of all the defendants charging they “caused and/or permitted the fire.” According to the complaint, “LADWP breached its duty once it was put on actual and constructive notice of at least one large tree, existing on the property, progressively encroaching upon energized power lines for several months prior to the fire’s ignition.”

However, according to the Cal Fire investigation, Walt Schober, on or near whose property the fire started, told investigators “a SCE vegetation management crew had trimmed the trees near the power lines approximately two to three weeks” prior to the fire.

SCE and LADWP traded punches and legal documents last November, each challenging the other, all entities named in the original suit and however many Does might pop up. The cross-complaints allege total non-responsibility on the plaintiffs’ respective parts. The cross-complaints go on to ask that, “if the allegations in the underlying action are found to be true”, the costs be shared equally. In other words, SCE and/or LADWP would pay the same share as Mobray’s Tree Service.

While the outcome of the trial next year is unsure, one sure thing: the attorneys’ fees in the case will be massive.

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mouthpiece
mouthpiece
5 years ago

The Calfire report can also be found online

Keystonecop
Keystonecop
5 years ago
Reply to  sierrasummer

The following are statements taken from the investigation report: SCHOBER told me a SCE vegetation management crew had trimmed the trees near the power lines approximately 2 to 3 weeks ago. He pointed out small piles of tree trimmings that the crew had left. SCHOBER told me there were no… Read more »

wagonrd
wagonrd
5 years ago

On the day of the fire, the anemometer on our roof top was registering 90 MPH winds. This wind was shifting from west, east, and south. Even healthy trees with well anchored roots will get knocked down by such fierce winds. Huge chunks of burning stuff was hurtling thru the… Read more »

mouthpiece
mouthpiece
5 years ago

Los Angeles county. You can look it up online

Trouble
Trouble
5 years ago

My personal feeling is Edison has the ability to kill the power lines in events just like this and didnt. You all can take it from there.

Roy
Roy
5 years ago

This is going to be terrible – no matter how this goes, SCE will have to be super cautious and remove more and more trees. It’s common sense zero and insurance companies and lawyers 1!

Pyro Boy
Pyro Boy
5 years ago
Reply to  Roy

Common sense is not building a bunch of homes in a fire trap.

sugarmags
sugarmags
5 years ago
Reply to  Pyro Boy

Care to define ‘fire trap’?

Paco
Paco
5 years ago
Reply to  sugarmags

Any state west of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains….

sugarmags
sugarmags
5 years ago

Insurance companies…can’t just pay out a claim, need to find someone else to fund it. Otherwise it cuts into their massive profits!

One question, which county were the lawsuits filed in? Fire started in Inyo, houses burned down in Mono, just wondering.