A significant case involving alleged negligence leading to an industrial accident became more serious last week when obstruction of justice charges were added to it, according to the Associated Press. The news agency reports that a San Francisco-based “federal grand jury charged Pacific Gas & Electric… with lying to federal investigators in connection with a fatal pipeline explosion that killed eight people and leveled a suburban Northern California neighborhood in 2010.”
The AP reports that the new charge sheet lists a total of 28 counts against the utility giant, replacing an earlier indictment containing only 12 charges. It accuses PG&E of “lying to National Transportation Safety Board investigators after the blast.” In particular, it alleges that the company sought to mislead government officials about “pipeline testing and maintenance procedures.” A spokesman for PG&E told AP that he had not yet seen the charges, but that the company was expecting them. The company disputes the allegations.
If these charges are proven they reflect about as clear a case of bad corporate citizenship as one could imagine. Lying to federal investigators not before but after the company’s negligence has led to the deaths of eight people gives new meaning to the idea of putting profits before people. Righting wrongs like this is why we have an independent court system.
According to AP, the allegations, if proven, could leave PG&E liable for more than $1 billion in fines. This is on top of what it may have to pay as a result of lawsuits that are already pending plus “$2.5 billion in civil fines from regulators, including the (California) state public utilities commission.”
As an Oregon industrial accident attorney I look at cases like this and am angry that companies feel so secure about engaging in this kind of conduct. PG&E now faces billions of dollars in fines, legal fees and potential negligence and industrial accident damages. All this could have been avoided by simply doing the right thing, but the company apparently believed that it would not get caught – or that if it did the consequences would be slight. We can all be thankful that our courts are here to help average Americans challenge corporate negligence, but mounting those challenges requires constant vigilance from all of us.
AP via Yahoo! News: PG&E charged with obstruction over San Bruno blast