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US California fire victims see little payout from settlement

01:00  07 may  2021
01:00  07 may  2021 Source:   msn.com

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California state agencies said they’re owed about .3 billion, and federal agencies including FEMA filed claims totaling .3 billion. The claims are not related to the billion PG&E agreed in June to pay to 14 local governments to cover damages from wildfires caused by its equipment. They also urged him to ensure that settlement amounts are governed by neutral and experienced trustees. Lawyers for the fire victims , meanwhile, have asked the judge to reduce the government agencies’ claims and argued in one court filing that the California governor’s office of emergency services can’t recover the

A committee representing fire victims struck a deal in December for .5bn in compensation, half of that total coming in PG&E shares. Yet as a voting deadline on Friday nears, a vocal group of dissident victims such as Ms Sedwick are loudly sharing their discontent in Facebook message boards and Three members of the victims committee have resigned in 2020 over concerns about the plan. The committee in late March unsuccessfully tried to get the bankruptcy court to send out a supplementary disclosure form to fire victims noting, among other things, that “the coronavirus pandemic and the

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A trust approved by a federal judge to help compensate victims of deadly California wildfires sparked by Pacific Gas & Electric equipment paid survivors just $7 million while racking up $51 million in overhead in its first year of operation, KQED News reported.

FILE - In this Dec. 3, 2018, file photo, charred footprints of homes leveled by the Camp Fire line the streets at the Ridgewood Mobile Home Park retirement community in Paradise, Calif. A trust approved by a federal judge to help compensate victims of deadly California wildires sparked by Pacific Gas & Electric equipment paid survivors just $7 million while racking up $51 million in overhead in its first year of operation, KQED News reported. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File): California Wildfires Utility © Provided by Associated Press California Wildfires Utility

The Fire Victim Trust was set up to compensate 67,000 victims as part of a bankruptcy settlement. Attorneys for the fire victims negotiated the deal on behalf of survivors, and it was funded half with cash and half with foundering PG&E stock.

PG&E was forced into bankruptcy after its equipment sparked the Camp Fire that killed at least 85 people and nearly wiped out the Northern California town of Paradise.

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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 .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.

Many victims dissatisfied with the settlement say giving money to the government agencies leaves little left to people who are still struggling to rebuild their lives. “There's not enough money in there for everybody and yet there are too many hands in the pot,” said Sasha Poe, who lost her house in 2018 when a fire Some victims said they're upset that the settlement provides cash and PG&E stock to a trust, stretching out payments over a few years, while insurers will receive their settlement in cash. “To me, they’re taking care of shareholders first and they want us to wait for payments,” said Lisa Williams

The investigation by KQED found that in its first year of operation, the trust spent nearly 90% of its funds on overhead while fire victims, many of whom lost their homes, waited for reimbursement. KQED analyzed federal bankruptcy court filings, court transcripts and correspondence between victims and staff of the Fire Victim Trust.

An unidentified spokesman for the Fire Victim Trust told KQED the fund has now increased its payments to families, putting $195.2 million into the hands of those who lost loved ones, homes and businesses to fires caused by PG&E. He said the trust had begun to make partial payments to about 9,500 of the 67,170 victims. The payments average approximately $13,000.

Bill Cook, a retired U.S. foreign service officer, lost his Paradise home in the Camp Fire, which was the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history. Cook, 70, and his family are scraping by, living in a rented home 100 miles (161 kilometers) away in Davis, where he shares a three-bedroom rental with his 68-year-old wife, Leslie, their four adult children and three grandchildren. He said his rent is triple what he paid for his mortgage in Paradise.

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The “Camp Fire ” in Northern California ’s Butte County has killed more than 40 people and destroyed more than 7100 homes since it started tearing through the region on November 8. Authorities are still investigating the cause, but it has already been labeled the deadliest wildfire in California ’s history. Airbnb is encouraging people in the Butte County region to open up their homes to wildfire victims while the figure out longer-term arrangements. From now through November 29, Airbnb users can advertise their homes as free, temporary shelters for aid workers and evacuees, The New York Times

The settlement provides cash and PG&E stock to a trust for the benefit of individual wildfire victims . Montali also approved an billion agreement with insurance companies, locking up the last and two most significant creditor groups. (Reuters) - A U.S. bankruptcy judge approved on Tuesday PG&E Corp's .5 billion settlement with victims of Californian wildfires, and the company's stock rallied as the utility gained momentum to emerge from bankruptcy in June as planned. "I don't think we've heard a single person say it's a bad settlement ," U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali said during a six-hour

FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2018 file photo, a home burns as a wildfire called the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif. A trust approved by a federal judge to help compensate victims of deadly California wildires sparked by Pacific Gas & Electric equipment paid survivors just $7 million while racking up $51 million in overhead in its first year of operation, KQED News reported.  (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2018 file photo, a home burns as a wildfire called the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif. A trust approved by a federal judge to help compensate victims of deadly California wildires sparked by Pacific Gas & Electric equipment paid survivors just $7 million while racking up $51 million in overhead in its first year of operation, KQED News reported. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

“They’re paying themselves very well," Cook said of the overhead costs. "They have these enormous legal costs and there’s not much to show for it.”

Officials for the trust declined to provide KQED with a list of companies it is working with and what it has paid them. But KQED’s review of documents identified more than half a dozen law firms and financial institutions that have profited from the Fire Victim Trust.

In a letter to fire victims in April, fund trustee John Trotter said it had retained Richmond, Virginia-based BrownGreer to process claims and that the firm has 300 staff members “committed to this project, including attorneys, project managers, analysts, claim reviewers, and software developers."

“My goal is to keep the cost of administration below or as close to 1% as possible,” Trotter wrote of the Fire Victim Trust.

Trotter, a retired California Appeals Court judge, charges $1,500 an hour, according to court filings, while claims administrator Cathy Yanni bills $1,250 an hour.

Scott McNutt, a former California State Bar governor and veteran bankruptcy attorney, told KQED the amounts charged are excessive for the meager results obtained so far and that the trust “has been completely non-transparent about what it’s doing for this money.”

“One of the hallmarks of the bankruptcy process is transparency,” he said. “One of the hallmarks of trust administration is transparency. That’s why they’re called trusts.”

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