PG&E Admits to Manslaughter in Fire Deaths

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PG&E Corp. admitted criminal responsibility for starting the deadliest wildfire in California’s history, becoming one of a few corporations to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges, reports the Wall Street Journal. The indictment and PG&E’s decision to admit guilt put to rest questions about the extent of the company’s culpability in starting the Camp Fire in 2018. PG&E, which supplies electricity and natural gas to 16 million people, admitted that its failure to maintain equipment was criminally negligent and caused the deaths of more than 80 people. The indictment doesn’t charge any PG&E employees.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said the company’s maintenance problems resulted from decisions made by many people over many years, and he decided not to charge any single person.  The company has agreed to pay a $3.48 million penalty, the statutory maximum. Prosecutors proposed charging PG&E with arson if it agreed to pay $200 million in criminal and civil penalties. To avoid the higher penalty, PG&E opted to plead to the manslaughter charges. PG&E filed for chapter 11 protection last year, citing billions of dollars in liability costs because of its role in sparking wildfires in 2017 and 2018 that collectively killed more than 100 people and destroyed 15,700 homes.

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