Attorney feels appeals court made correct decision to not grant immunity to Pacific Gas and Electric

By Nicholas Gueguen | May 26, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO — Tim Tietjen, the attorney for Zachary Rowe and his guardians against Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), told the Northern California Record that the California First District Court of Appeal decided correctly in not award Pacific Gas and Electric the immunity it wanted.

"I think it was exactly the right thing to do for the reasons stated in the unanimous opinion," Tietjen said. "The interpretation purged by PG&E would result in numerous unfair situations." 

In 2012, Rowe, who was 12 years old at the time, was injured while camping in a park when a tree in the vicinity of PG&E power lines fell on his tent. The electric company had argued it was immune from paying damages because the company did not receive proceeds from the campers' admission fees, according to court documents.

Tietjen said if the court had granted the company immunity, it could make parks liable for the negligence of others.

"Any theme park—Great America, for example, Six Flags, anything like that—a patron pays to enter there," Tietjen said. "And there's PG&E wires running throughout that, and electricity is provided for all the rides. And let's say that there's power lines that fall and kill people, or electricity interruptions have caused a failure of rides that result in people falling and getting killed. PG&E would say, 'the immunity applies. We didn't get paid. Six Flags got paid, but we didn't get paid.' So now, you've got to sue Six Flags for that, and now Six Flags becomes responsible for PG&E's negligence."

Tietjen said that would cause an unjust blame on another party.

"You'd be shifting the burden and relieving a guilty party from responsibility," Tietjen said. "And the court saw through that and saw that that interpretation would be ridiculous."

Tietjen said that his clients were pleased with the ruling the appeals court handed down.

"My clients are obviously happy to see that the court made the right decision and did the right thing," he said. "But these things go on for a long time. It's delayed the case for almost two years now, and PG&E has already gone ahead and filed a petition with the supreme court asking the [California] Supreme Court review the matter and consider reversing the appellate court decision. So it has the continued ability to try and delay things in the case."

Tietjen said he believes the California Supreme Court takes one to two months to review petitions.

"The vast majority of those [petitions] are declined," he said. "If they accept it, then God only knows how long it'll be pending before there's a decision. But it is a novel issue, so it might be something they want to look at, even if it's just to reaffirm the lower court."

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California 1st District Court of Appeal Pacific Gas & Electric Co

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