SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — People who lost family members, homes and businesses in California wildfires had a Tuesday deadline to seek compensation from the nation’s largest utility as part of its bankruptcy case.
The deadline involved claims to receive part of the $13.5 billion Pacific Gas & Electric will pay for losses from deadly wildfires in Northern California in 2017 and 2018.
In November, PG&E agreed to extend the deadline by two months after lawyers raised concern that tens of thousands of victims had not filed claims for their losses and suffering. They said many wildfire survivors — still traumatized and struggling to get back on their feet — weren’t aware of their right to file a claim.
About 72,000 fire-related claims were filed by the initial deadline in October, according to PG&E. Since then, a certified public accountant who was appointed by the bankruptcy court to find more victims said more than 4,000 new claims have been filed.
PG&E said it mailed notices and claim forms to more than 67,000 individuals, bought advertisements, put the word out online and opened six service centers to help people file claims by 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Katsolas said he and a team working with him passed out 16,000 fliers and sent text messages and emails. They also tried to reach out to victims on social media and attended community events such as high school football games and church gatherings.
He said people can file claims against PG&E for many reasons, including damage to property, loss of belongings, personal injury or wrongful death, business interruption, lost wages, emotional distress and more.
Information and a way to file claims online is available at officialfireclaims.com or by calling a hotline Katsolas and his team set up: 1-888-909-0100.
The deadline also motivated a nonprofit group to spread the word to wildfire victims that they can donate all or a portion of their settlement money to help others still struggling to recover.
David Levy, whose retreat center was destroyed by a wildfire in California’s wine country in 2017, helped launch the Rise and Regenerate Fund when it became apparent to him that some people were reluctant to seek payments because they think there are others in greater need of support.
The fund is partnered with Goodnation, which connects donors to vetted organizations that are most effective at serving those in need.
Levy said he plans to donate 20 percent of his settlement payout to a Sonoma County center focused on helping wildfire victims overcome psychological trauma.
“People are also trying to rebuild emotionally, and one way to feel better is to help other people,” he said.