Apr. 15—Thousands of California victims of wildfires linked to PG&E Corp. have received payments totaling $141.3 million from the utility's bankruptcy — but are being warned that the payout process is proceeding slowly.
In a letter to victims filed this week in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the Fire Victim Trust said this week that it has sent money to 7,547 victims of the 2018 Camp Fire and other wildfires that drove PG&E into bankruptcy in 2019. That represents a little more than 10% of the victims of the fires, which date to 2015.
About two-thirds of the money disbursed so far has been the "preliminary payments" geared toward victims who are considered "vulnerable and struggling because of the fires and impacted even more by the COVID-19 crisis," the fund's trustee John Trotter said in his letter. Those payments are capped at $25,000.
Fewer than 200 victims have received the first round of "pro rata payments," which are based on the amount of their claims. Those payments so far total almost $46 million. These first round payments represent 30% of each victims' claims.
Validating victims' claims will take months, Trotter said. All told, the trust is supposed to pay out $13.5 billion to compensate victims for damages not covered by their insurance.
The trust, set up as the PG&E bankruptcy concluded last summer, started rolling out payments last November but has been criticized by some victims for not issuing cash more quickly.
"It's two and a half years down the line and we're just sitting here waiting," said Vincent Woodhall, who lost two homes and a pair of businesses in the Camp Fire, which destroyed most of Paradise in Butte County. "It seems (like) delay after delay." Woodhall, now living in a rental in Galt, hasn't received any money and doesn't know anyone who's been paid.
Trotter, a retired appeals court justice, acknowledged victims' frustration in his letter.
"The Trust regularly receives inquiries from claimants regarding when payments will be made," he wrote. "Understandably, you have suffered with the devastating effects of these disasters for many years and are anxious to receive a recovery after so much time has already passed. Although it may seem that this process is moving slowly, it is actually much more efficient when compared to the court system."
The payout fund doesn't cover any fires blamed on PG&E since the utility filed for Chapter 11 in early 2019. The company has been blamed by state investigators for two fires since then, the October 2019 Kincade Fire in Sonoma County and last September's Zogg Fire in Shasta County. The company has told investors that damages from the two fires could hit $625 million.
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