The litigation surrounding the Thomas Fire and subsequent debris flow just added one more suit, this time by Southern California Edison. Following the filing of a complaint against Edison in July 2018 for damages to the city and county of Santa Barbara and other agencies, Edison filed a cross-complaint on Friday alleging the plaintiffs knew the risks that caused their costs.
The attorneys for SoCal Edison and parent company Edison International, Heuston Hennigan of Los Angeles, review Montecito’s history of debris flows in the document and charge that the county, city, county flood control, Caltrans, and Montecito Water District — the plaintiffs in the underlying action — knew of the risk from debris flows. Development in flood zones, the building of debris dams and bridges, and the water and sewage system were in their purview, and they could have alleviated the risks alleged in the complaint. Edison also claims “inadequate and flawed hazard warnings” left residents unaware of their risks. The cross-complaint cites news stories by reporters Melinda Burns, Joe Mozingo (of the Los Angeles Times), Brooke Holland (Noozhawk), and the Independent‘s Tyler Hayden, as well as other documents in its timeline.
Edison points to the Santa Monica Creek debris basin north of Carpinteria as a properly built and maintained catchment. In a statement to the Independent, the company wrote, “Preventing similar tragedies in the future can only be accomplished if our public entities take appropriate steps to protect the communities they serve.” That debris basin is in the county.
In the pleading, Edison states it’s received “more than 75 complaints alleging that the Montecito Mudslides were caused by the December 2017 Thomas Fire, and that the Thomas Fire was in turn caused by Edison.” It also says that even if its equipment started the Thomas Fire, it would not concede it was liable for all the fire damage or liability from the 1/9 Debris Flow. It charges that the cross-defendants exacerbated their losses and were negligent.
Neither the county nor the city had yet received the cross-complaint, said County Counsel Mike Ghizzoni and Deputy City Attorney Tom Shapiro, when contacted late Friday afternoon. Scott Summy of Baron & Budd in Solana Beach, California, is acting as attorney for the plaintiffs. In their complaint, they alleged Edison had negligently failed to maintain its electrical grid. The complaint asks Edison to cover their costs from both Thomas and the debris flow under inverse condemnation (if a utility causes a loss, it pays) and theories of negligence and Public Utility Code violations. The sum would be determined at trial, and a jury has been requested.