Pacific Gas & Electric Co. officials confirmed Tuesday the company will take financial responsibility for the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion and compensate victims who have filed civil suits in the wake of the blast.
The announcement came as company attorneys prepared for a hearing Friday regarding about 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.
The company has not specified how much it will pay victims, nor the amount of its total liability, but the latter is expected to be in the millions of dollars.
"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 Tuesday. "We thought it was more appropriate to make it very clear that we're acknowledging our liability."
The Sept. 9, 2010 explosion in San Bruno killed eight people, injured dozens and laid waste to dozens of 1960s-era homes in the hills overlooking San Francisco Bay.
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.
Frank Pitre, an attorney who represents about 75 victims of the blast, said the company's acknowledgment of its liability won't change his legal approach as the trial date draws closer.
"This is not just about one exploding pipeline that ended up killing people and placed others' lives upside down by burning them beyond recognition," he said. "This case deals with exposing the corporate culture at PG&E."
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.
Johns said the acknowledged liability would apply to current and future suits filed in the San Mateo court system.
Lawsuits brought against PG&E by shareholders will be heard separately.