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On the Heels of the San Bruno Explosion: Insurance Claims

The San Bruno, California, pipeline explosion on September 9 calls into question several issues that are beginning to get attention from relevant experts and the media. 

These issues range from whether a similar pipeline explosion could happen in other neighborhoods across the country; whether it is safe for pipelines to run underneath homes; and the question as to who is responsible for the disaster that killed four people and destroyed more than 50 homes.

The answers to these issues will, in turn, impact affected residents’ homeowners and business insurance claims.

A key piece of evidence–the blackened piece of pipeline that is believed to have ruptured–was taken for investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. In the meantime, temporarily displaced San Bruno residents are returning home to find utility workers from Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) scouring the streets with handheld devices for other unknown leaks.

PG&E has established a $100 million fund to help residents and the neighborhood recover. Likely claims will include compensation for personal injury (including wrongful death) and compensation for total or partial destruction of homes and surrounding property.

The pipe was apparently installed in 1956 and some experts have theorized that it ruptured from corrosion. Whether PG&E takes full responsibility will hinge on the outcome of the NTSB’s investigation. PG&E President Chris Johns has stated that his company will “do the right thing” if it is found to be responsible.

The true measure of PG&E’s resolve to address the disaster will be evident when affected residents begin to file claims for compensation with PG&E and its insurer. Often, attorneys must get involved to hold insurers and corporations accountable for negligence, and this case will probably be no exception.