Attorneys for PG&E and hundreds of plaintiffs have delayed the start of a civil trial on the deadly San Bruno pipeline blast by about 2½ months as they wade through a mountain of pretrial preparations and work toward settlement deals.
On a conference call with lawyers Thursday, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Steven Dylina reset the July 23 trial date to Oct. 9, attorneys said. Both sides agreed on the delay, which comes as they work to settle the cases before trial and deal with potentially hundreds of expert witnesses.
"He's recognizing that everybody is running around with too much to do," Attorney Don Dowling said of Dylina. Dowling is one of a team of attorneys representing survivors of the Sept. 9, 2010, explosion of a Pacific Gas & Electric natural gas line that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.
As the trial draws closer, attorneys are assembling experts to testify on the health and medical histories of at least 50 fire survivors. PG&E is also assembling its own experts.
Before the trial, each one of up to 200 doctors and 400 expert witnesses in various fields will need to complete a deposition, which is sworn legal testimony given outside of court. The process can be lengthy and grueling.
PG&E attributed the delay to ongoing settlement talks its engaged in with survivors.
"By moving the trial date back we're working to resolve these matters fairly and quickly," said utility
In the past four weeks, at least half a dozen cases have reached confidential settlements. But some of the biggest cases, such as those brought by Bullis family, which lost a father, son and grandmother to the flames, have not come to an agreement with the utility, attorneys said.
Survivor Gene O'Neil, who is slated for a settlement meeting with the utility, said the delay doesn't bother him as long as the result is fair.
"Is it going to be good and we're all going to be treated fairly?" asked O'Neil, whose home and twin daughter were burned in the fire. "Or is the other shoe going to drop and we're going to say 'PG&E did it to us again.' "
Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.