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Court mistakenly posts secret pipeline settlement

Source : AP
Last Updated: Thu, Aug 30, 2012 19:15 hrs

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. agreed to pay more than $2 million to a teenager burned in the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people and destroyed dozens of homes, according to secret settlement documents mistakenly posted by a California court.

The documents provide the first glimpse at settlements reached by the utility in lawsuits filed by victims of the blast. Details of settlements reached with more than a quarter of the roughly 400 plaintiffs have previously been confidential, the San Mateo County Times reported on Wednesday (http://bit.ly/PsDRDm ).

The documents posted on the San Mateo County Superior Court website show the company paid the teenage girl $1.8 million and an additional $677,700 to cover her attorneys' fees and $19,400 for medical expenses. The girl suffered second and third-degree burns in the blast that was blamed on an inferior pipeline weld. Her injuries required extensive treatment and will likely leave her with permanent scars, the lawsuit states.

The documents, sealed by court order, were filed on July 18. It was not immediately clear how they got online.

"From the clerk's office to the IT department, something happened," said Judge Steven Dylina, who is presiding over the girl's case. "I don't know where the glitch is."

The page on the court's website connected to the San Bruno blast was briefly shut down but was back up on Thursday.

PG&E would not say if the disclosure would impact other civil cases. Some victims have complained that lack of information about other settlement amounts has made it difficult for them to evaluate offers from the utility.

"The contents of any settlement remain confidential but we stay committed in our efforts to resolve these matters as quickly and fairly as possible," PG&E spokeswoman Brittany Chord said Thursday.

Anthony Earley, PG&E's CEO, told reporters Thursday that he hopes to settle all the cases in the coming months, as well as resolve pending proceedings before the California Public Utilities Commission. He would not disclose the number of civil cases that have been settled.

"The company has acknowledged that we were responsible for that, we're working with the victims, and we need to get all of these proceedings behind us," he said at a press conference at the company's San Francisco headquarters.

Through June, the utility had spent $145 million on injury and property claims connected with the blast, Chord said. The company estimated at the time that third-party claims from the blast would end up costing $455 million.

The total cost related to San Bruno will likely top $1 billion, including money the company has spent on repairs stemming from the blast, paid to victims and PG&E's estimate of a $200 million fine from regulators, Earley said Thursday.

A confidential report commissioned by state utility regulators found PG&E's parent corporation could absorb $2.55 billion in penalties tied to the explosion, yet remain financially viable.

The report by Overland Consulting did not state outright that PG&E Corp. would be fined that much for the deadly blast but instead suggested the company could survive a fine of that magnitude, according to a report by The San Francisco Chronicle (http://bit.ly/SVGuTp ).

That is considerably more than PG&E has said it expects to pay out for violations that regulators allege the utility committed before the transmission line burst on Sept. 9, 2010, sparking a gas-fueled inferno that devoured several blocks.

"The company disagrees with the report's conclusion and we believe it's based on an unrealistic and flawed analysis," Chord said Thursday.

PG&E crews were back in the suburban neighborhood on Thursday, filling in a portion of the ruptured pipeline with cement to seal it off for the future, Chord said.

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Information from: Santa Cruz Sentinel, http://www.santacruzsentinel.com




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