PG&E assumes civil liability in San Bruno blast

By GARANCE BURKE | December 13, 2011 | 6:50 PM EST

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Pacific Gas & Electric Co. officials confirmed Tuesday it will take financial responsibility for the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion and compensate victims who have brought civil suits in the wake of the blast.

The announcement came as company attorneys prepared for a hearing regarding more than 90 civil suits filed against the utility in San Mateo County Superior Court.

PG&E President Chris Johns said the company issued the statement in response to a judge's request for an official position, but PG&E is hoping to settle cases without going to trial.

"PG&E is hopeful that today's announcement will allow the families affected by this terrible tragedy to receive compensation sooner, without unnecessary legal proceedings," Johns said in a statement. "We are affirming our commitment to do the right thing in our response to this accident."

The utility previously indicated that it planned to compensate people affected by the blast, but victims later questioned whether the company had plans to hold them at fault.

The Sept. 9, 2010 explosion in San Bruno killed eight people, injured dozens and destroyed dozens of homes in the bedroom community.

A trial date has been set for July 23, 2012, but attorneys for the plaintiffs and the San Francisco-based company are still figuring out a process so that suits filed by victims and their families can be brought to trial as a group.

Lawsuits brought against PG&E by shareholders will be heard separately.