Verdicts and Settlements
REAL PROPERTY, Fire - Tree
SETTLEMENT: $4,000,000.00 (including repairs).
CASE: Emery, et. al. v. PG&E.
COURT/DATE: Sonoma Superior / May 5, 2002
ATTORNEYS: Plaintiff Barri Kaplan Bonapart (Bonapart & Associates, Mill Valley), and Colin C. Claxon (Law Offices of Colin C. Claxon, San Rafael). Defendant Christopher P. Bisgaard (Lewis, D Amato, Brisbois & Bisgaard, L.A.), and Rita Gilmore (San Rafael).
TECHNICAL EXPERTS: Plaintiff: Raymond F. Moritz, arborist, Mill Valley; Jack Hamilton, real estate appraiser, Oakville; Defendant: James MacNair, arborist, Glen Ellen; Frank Chan, horticulturist/erosion control, Davis.
FACTS: The plaintiffs Dr. John Emery and Deborah Emery reside on a ranch where 110 acres were consumed by fire in July 1996. Another plaintiff resided on the adjacent parcel, of which approximately 75 acres burned. The fire occurred when the defendant's tree-trimming contractor, Davey Tree Service, failed to trim trees which subsequently came into contact with a power line. The defendant admitted liability and that the plaintiffs' properties were damaged as a result of the fire. The plaintiffs alleged damages for nuisance and trespass and sought equitable relief under Business & Professions Code, section 17200. The defendant also asserted that the court had no jurisdiction to hear a Business & Professions Code section 17200 claim.
OTHER INFORMATION: According to the plaintiff: The case may be the largest private settlement for damage to trees. The settlement, paid by the insurer for the defendant's tree trimming contractor, consisted of a cash payment of $3.15 million and restorative work valued at approximately $850,000. The suit alleged that the fire which destroyed the plaintiffs' trees was one of many fires resulting from the defendant's systematic business practice of under-spending its authorized tree trimming budget. The defendant allegedly had diverted almost $80 million from that budget over a period of seven years. The case involved six years of litigation in five courts in two counties including the California Supreme Court and the Bankruptcy Court. The issue of jurisdiction regarding the Business & Professions Code section 17200 claim is pending before the California Supreme Court even though the case has been settled. According to the defendant: The plaintiffs contended that their hill-top properties suffered serious erosion problems, damage to waterways located thereon; tree losses and damages to their under-construction home sites. The defendant paid its tree-trimming contractor, Davey Tree, to patrol, trim and inspect trees in the area where the fire originated, but the contractor missed certain trees which subsequently grew into the electric lines. Davey Tree's insurers accepted PG&E's request for indemnity, subject to a reservation of rights, and paid the settlement. The defendant made partial repairs to both properties immediately after the fire, then performed further work two years later. The plaintiffs originally filed in Napa County, but the case was transferred to Sonoma County where the fire occurred.
"According to the plaintiff: The case may be the largest private settlement for damage to trees. The settlement, paid by the insurer for the defendant's tree trimming contractor, consisted of a cash payment of $3.15 million and restorative work valued at approximately $850,000."