Washington, D.C. (Law Firm Newswire) April 25, 2014 — Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) has been indicted on criminal charges in connection with a 2010 explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno, California.
The indictment states that the company repeatedly violated the Pipeline Safety Act. That law requires pipeline operators to maintain accurate records about their lines, identify safety hazards and inspect the pipes when pressures exceed safety tolerances. PG&E is alleged to have “knowingly relied on erroneous and incomplete information” in avoiding required inspections, which could have prevented the disaster.
Washington, D.C. personal injury attorney David Lietz welcomes news of the indictment.
“This explosion claimed eight lives,” Lietz says, “and those families deserve answers. If workers at PG&E knowingly avoided required inspections, the company must be held responsible. Pipeline operators need to know that cutting corners is not an option when it comes to safety.”
The explosion is blamed on a faulty seam weld dating back to the installation of the pipeline, 54 years ago. In the intervening time, PG&E allegedly never conducted an inspection on that part of the line. In fact, the company lost records showing the pipe’s characteristics — including whether it had seams at all.
In San Francisco, a federal grand jury indicted the company on one count of improper maintenance of records on its pipelines. Another nine counts concerned incidents of over-pressurization and failure to handle them properly on three lines, including the one in San Bruno. The final two charges alleged failure to identify pipeline safety hazards and to develop plans to correct them.
The maximum penalty PG&E may receive from the charges is $6 million. A judge may also appoint an independent monitor for the company’s natural gas operations.
But some critics questioned why none of the individual executives at PG&E faced criminal charges. Carl Werimer, head of the Pipeline Safety Trust, told the San Francisco Chronicle he was surprised at the lack of charges against former and current executives. Former U.S. attorney Joseph Russoniello told the Chronicle that it is nearly impossible to assign blame to individuals at public utilities, due to their size and the widespread responsibility for any given policy or action.
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