Furious residents and victims of the tragic Montecito mudslide name Southern California Edison (“SCE”) and Montecito Water District Financing Corporation (“MWD”) in a lawsuit. They claim that Edison, a large California power company, was responsible for the massive Thomas wildfire. The said disaster burned 281,893 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Because of this horrendous incident, the Los Padres National Forest’s upper slopes of vegetation were stripped, water taken up by plants and soil was reduced, and the forest canopy was exposed. They also claim the Montecito Water District Financing Corporation, Santa Barbara’s water district, was responsible for the broken pipe that allowed 9 million gallons of water to combine with rainwater to produce the horrendous mudflows.

The Thomas fire is the largest wildfire in the history of California whereas the Montecito mudslide is one of the most catastrophic occurrences in the entire state. While one cannot stop a natural phenomenon from happening in our environment, it is no doubt that mankind is also responsible for these natural disasters. There are consequences in our surroundings for every action humans do, whether good or bad and these include the irresponsible activities of the aforementioned companies.

montecito mudslide
Satellite image from the Terra satellite of the smoke from the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, on December 5, along with the smoke from 2 other smaller fires, in Southern California.

The negligence the defendants committed

Negligence is the failure to take reasonable care to avoid injuries or an act of omitting the fulfillment of duties. It is essentially concerned with compensating the affected party who suffered injury or damage as a result of lack of responsibility. If there was no act of reasonable care and cannot be proven to exist in the first place, then there’s no need to acknowledge the tort of negligence.

Perspectives and definitions about the concept of negligence are not entirely different from state to state, although the degree varies depending to which negligence is shared. Negligence in the context of California laws follows the legal doctrine of “comparative negligence” or the theory that indicates the percentage of fault attributable to the amount of recovery for damages. This allows the plaintiff to recover for the percentage of damages ascribable to the defendant.

In the case of the Montecito mudslide, SCE failed to maintain its overhead electrical facilities safely, including the failure to inspect, repair and/or replace its deteriorating wooden utility poles and equipment. SCE also failed to remove trees and vegetation around its vicinity especially the utility poles and most importantly, they also failed to shut down the electrical grid in Santa Paula and Ventura during the Red Flag Warning which ultimately caused the Thomas Fire. Definitely, had SCE acted rapidly and responsibly, the Thomas fire could not have occurred.

In addition, the lawsuit also filed that the MWD main water line ruptured on January 9, 2018, causing the millions of gallons of water to add up to the mudflow and debris. Because the water collected debris, this resulted in the crashing of several homes and properties as well as loss of lives.

The lawsuit does not seek a specific amount of money but does request damages for property repairs and replacement, loss of use of personal or real property, emotional distress, lost wages, attorney’s fees, litigation costs, and other charges pursuant to Section 1036 of the Code of Civil Procedure.

 

The inverse condemnation the defendants committed

Under inverse condemnation law in California, a public company is liable for physical damage to private property caused by a public improvement. This means a public agency can be held liable if something goes wrong even if the public improvement was properly planned, operated or maintained.

The plaintiffs of this Montecito mudslide case were said to be owners of real property located within the County of Santa Barbara on December 4, 2017. Prior to January 8, 2018, SCE owned and operated electrical infrastructure, facilities, and equipment in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Because of the legality of SCE’s ownership and operation for a public use of electric utilities, the electrical equipment owned by SCE came into contact with the trees and vegetation near the area and caused the huge Thomas fire.

Moreover, MWD also owned and maintained a water supply and storage system in the hills above Montecito, California. MWD supplies approximately 4,500 citizens in Montecito, California and holds a reservoir of 12 million gallons. During the rainstorm which occurred last January 9, 2018, the reservoirs were filled yet fully operational. However, the water line experienced damage which later broke, releasing approximately 9 million gallons into creeks in the area.

MWD claimed to have an automatic Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system (SCADA) to monitor its reservoirs and facilities and to shut off valves in times of main line break in order to prevent the brimming of water. The mentioned system needs an electrical power to function and unfortunately, the electric power was out during the storm on January 9, 2018, making the system non-operational.

 

The consequences of Montecito mudslide case

While there are multiple cases filed against SCE and MWD, the two above mentioned violations represent the great amount of liability these two companies have to duly face and settle.

The representation of clients in the Montecito mudslide lawsuit is not obligated to pay any legal fees; in other terms, it will be on a contingent fee basis. Unless SCE and/or the Montecito Water District gives recovery by settlement in court. The legal team will supply all the fees in advance that is necessary for the prosecution, in that way the clients don’t have to fret about the charges.

Whether the act of negligence, inverse condemnation, public and private nuisance, violations of health and safety, or trespassing to name a few complaints filed against SCE and MWD, the mere fact that their irresponsibility led to the loss of innocent lives is enough reason to push through with this lawsuit. No amount of compensation can bring back these innocent lives that were victimized by the Montecito mudslide and the preceded Thomas fire. On top of that, it is our very own environment that was greatly harmed and destroyed. Suing SCE and MWD may not bring back the lives but it could somehow put the survivors’ hearts at peace.

 

Seeking legal help to attorneys

Anyone who has lost family members, relatives, or friends, suffered personal or physical injury, property loss, and damage, or business loss because of the Montecito mudslide may join the lawsuit. Here at Gomez and Simone, A Professional Law Corporation we can help you get the best outcomes and the justice you deserve. With an unwavering devotion and experienced workforce of legal professionals ready to serve you, we provide profound expertise and solicitude you won’t find at other firms.

If you need a team of lawyers that is experienced and effective in all the cases faced by the Montecito mudslide tragedy, please call our office for a Free Consultation * today!

Disclaimer

Gomez & Simone is a full service real estate law firm representing families and business people, homeowners and renters, landlords and tenants, with offices throughout Southern California.  This article is informational only and should not be used as legal advice.  Please note that laws may have changed since this article was published.  Before taking action, we recommend that you consult with one of our attorneys about your specific matter.  Please contact your local Gomez & Simone office or call us at 1-855-219-3333.  Attorney advertising.