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Southern California Edison strikes $360-million settlement over wildfires and mudslide

A Montecito freeway sign sits in mud on Highway 101 following the debris flows of late 2017.
A Montecito freeway sign sits in mud on Highway 101 following the debris flows of late 2017.
(Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

Southern California Edison has agreed to pay $360 million to dozens of public agencies affected by wildfires and mudslides in the last two years, attorneys involved in the deal said Wednesday.

The settlement closes 26 lawsuits involving 23 public entities filed against the utility, including Los Angeles County, which will receive $78 million, said attorney John Fiske, whose firm represented the county and other agencies in the litigation.

The public entities sued Southern California Edison over expenses and damage they incurred during and after the 2017 Thomas fire, the Montecito mudslide or the 2018 Woolsey fire. The settlement allocates $150 million for agencies affected by the Thomas fire and subsequent mudslide and $210 million for the Woolsey fire, including $13.7 million for the city of Malibu.

A portion of the settlement will be used by the various agencies to repay the California Office of Emergency Services and Federal Emergency Management Agency for their help during the incidents.

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“This is the most comprehensive settlement for public entities in a wildfire case in California, probably ever,” said Fiske, a lawyer with Baron & Budd, who represented the plaintiffs along with co-counsel Dixon Diab & Chambers.

Edison’s equipment sparked the Thomas fire, which killed two people and scorched the Montecito hills in Santa Barbara County that flowed through town during a rainstorm a month later, killing 21 more. The utility stated in a corporate filing last month it could be found responsible for the Woolsey fire too, which was the biggest fire in L.A. County’s history. It estimated its liability for the Woolsey fire plus the Thomas and mudslide could reach $4.7 billion.

The utility did not admit fault in the settlement and still faces lawsuits from individual residents and victims.

“We are pleased to reach agreements to resolve the claims brought by local government entities related to the 2017 and 2018 events,” said Pedro J. Pizarro, the president and chief executive of the utility’s parent company, Edison International, in a statement.

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“We look forward to engaging with other parties who have a similar interest in good faith settlement efforts. We also will continue to make substantial investments in our system and enhance our operational practices to reduce the risk of wildfires in our service area and safely provide power to homes and businesses.”

The settlement comes just weeks after customers of Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric slammed both utilities for turning off the power for millions to avoid fires similar to the Woolsey and Thomas. Both utilities have said they are working to make their grid more resilient and to improve outages’ focus but that in the short term they plan to continue precautionary power shutdowns to avoid sparking deadly catastrophes.

In June, PG&E settled a suit with 14 public entities in Northern California also represented by Fiske’s law firm for $1 billion for PG&E’s role in the 2017 wine country fires and 2018 Camp fire in Paradise that killed 85 people.


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