Residents want bellwether trial for pipeline suit

(Brian Carmody)
August 30, 2011 1:20:32 AM PDT
More than 50 families impacted by the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion pushed for answers from the court. They want a trial to start next year to determine compensation for their damages, but PG&E says it's not been held liable for the blast.

San Bruno families who are suing PG&E say they are still having nightmares a year later. Their attorneys say PG&E is stalling, trying to tire out and frustrate the families into settling without a trial. Their attorneys also say that at least one elderly plaintiff has already passed away.

Bill Magoolaghan is one of 53 San Bruno families that are involved in the lawsuit. He says the past year has been torture for his wife and four children.

"A lot of stress dealing with the issues, dealing with my children who are in therapy, dealing with my wife who is in therapy who has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder," said Magoolaghan.

On Monday, the attorney for the families filed a brief in San Mateo Superior Court. It asks that the court allow a bellwether trial, which would use four cases as a bellwether for settlement. ABC7 legal analyst Dean Johnson explains the purpose of that kind of trial.

"You have those trials and that gives you a benchmark to decide how you might settle other cases that are similar to the four you already tried," said Johnson.

The families want a trial in July of next year. PG&E issued its response brief on Monday. It basically states PG&E has not been found liable for the explosion and fire that destroyed 35 homes and killed eight residents last Sept. 9.

"What PG&E wants to do is to have a trial on one issue that is liability, whether or not PG&E is at fault," said Johnson.

To that end PG&E sent a response to ABC7 saying, "Our goal has always been, and continues to be, finding a timely and fair resolution to these matters. We believe our proposal would allow a much faster and efficient means to the resolution of these claims, which the plaintiffs deserve."

"This isn't necessarily about money, it's really hard to say what's going to make me whole," said Magoolaghan.

He wants the corporation to stand up and take responsibility. The NTSB released a video Monday regarding its investigation.

"The quality of the welds was also not consistent with what we would expect today or at the time, with respect to industry standards," said NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman.

The NTSB board will present its findings on Tuesday after a year-long investigation.

In the document, PG&E says they want a trial on liability and then mediate claims with the families. They are willing to mediate now with families who don't want to go through that process.

According to Johnson, the NTSB findings will be used as evidence by both sides when and if these lawsuits go to trial.

On Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2011, ABC7's Heather Ishimau will report live from Washington D.C. and we will link you to a live stream of the NTSB's findings. It is scheduled to begin at 6:30 a.m. Pacific Time.

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