In ten months, PG&E has gone from proactive to reactive to outright combative. But in an unexpected return to magnanimity, the Utility has announced that it does not intend to argue that the displaced or deceased residents of San Bruno are to blame for their own suffering. Well, frankly, no kidding.

A court filing last week laid out a variety of potential defenses that PG&E may use in a jury trial to deflect blame for the explosion that destroyed 38 homes and killed eight people. One of the potential defenses is that the explosion was caused by “comparative negligence (or) contributory negligence.” In other words, it’s the ‘anyone but us’ defense. That could have included the residents of San Bruno themselves.

In a jury trial, which the utility has requested, arguing that San Bruno residents were to blame would be akin to arguing that the jurors themselves are complicit to the tragedy. Such an assertion would likely result in a short deliberation and a guilty verdict for PG&E.

The utility’s initial filing was deliberately filled with decoy legal strategies, in an attempt to keep their real intent hidden. However, some of their claims were simply insulting and a company with the resources of PG&E should know better.

Here’s a couple of simple rules and arguments they should consider before heading to their trial by jury:

  1. Unless it’s a suicide, it’s not particularly effective to blame a victim for his or her own death. Even if you choose to ignore the pain and suffering that such an argument would cause for the victim’s survivors, it’s a hard story to sell and it will likely cause a jury to empathize with the victim. 
  2. Calling the San Bruno Pipeline 

    corvairstate-of-the-art is nearly comical. Recent reports to and by the California Public Utility Commission show that PG&E doesn’t actually know what state their pipelines are in. At best, the circa-1950, weld-laden pipeline met the regulatory requirements of a half-century ago. Then again when the Chevrolet Corvair was designed and built ten years after that particularly stretch of pipeline, it met all regulatory requirements, too. That didn’t keep it from being deemed “unsafe at any speed.” 


  3. Replacing aging pipelines should take priority over replacing aging corporate airplanes. In 2007, the CPUC agreed to a $5 million rate increase to replace sections of the same pipeline that exploded last year. It didn’t happen. But that same year, PG&E purchased a new corporate jet for $27 million, the Embraer EMB-135BJ. Keep in mind that when the San Bruno Pipeline was laid, the commercial airliner of choice was the DC-3.