PARADISE — Many Camp Fire victims are still waiting for compensation for many damages from PG&E, to come through the Fire Victim Trust.
As the new year starts, the Trust clarified how many claims are arriving and how has been paid out to victims so far, and that many are still being processed for months.
The Trust was opened in July 2020 and the start of claim filing began August 17. According to Cathy Yanni, Claims Administrator of the Fire Victim Trust, as of Friday 23,868 claims (of 51,285 claimants, as multiple claimants with different claims may be in the same household) had submitted Claims Questionnaires resulting in 80,715 submitted claims to bankruptcy court.
As of Wednesday, the Trust has paid 1,600 claimants (or about 2% of the total claimants) a total of $21,735,500. However, it was clarified the over 80,000 claimants (including individuals and businesses) who filed with Bankruptcy Court may not all have submitted claims with the Trust.
With over 79,000 claimants awaiting processing to determine eligibility and compensation, concern has risen about how long the process could take, and how much money they’ll see.
Camp Fire survivor Thomas Gardner said he rebuilt his home in Magalia without knowing how much he will receive from the Trust. He claims he has not heard of a timeline for disbursement from his lawyer.
”The Trust says they will start distributing by Nov. 23 and they have yet to distribute a cent,” he said. ”Of course the Trust is collecting interest on the billions on deposit … we have rebuilt and furnished our home and we’re being crushed by credit card interest.”
According to Yanni, there has been a multi-step process for properly filing claims, and to get their claim assessed for eligibility before payment, each household must follow the steps properly. They must file a claim with bankruptcy court (where 80,000 claims were filed by the Dec. 31, 2019 deadline) then have filed with the Trust through the official website starting in August.
There are then secondary, very important steps to be followed for eligibility.
A request from California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara on Nov. 13 asked insurance companies to help victims of PG&E wildfires in 2017 and 2018, by extending coverage limits and periods due to hardships.
Lara listed these as ”COVID-19; the 2020 wildfires; an inability to rebuild their homes due to a shortage of contractors and slow building permitting; and the necessary wait for compensation from the Fire Victim Trust.” The request reflected that many fire victims have not yet been able to submit claims for compensation ”from the approximately $13 billion PG&E-funded Trust.”
Lara’s notice to insurance companies made specific requests to insurers who covered wildfire victims:
- Consider homeowners’ reasonable delays in receiving compensation from the Fire Victim Trust for losses exceeding their insurance policy benefits
- Extend time for policyholders who suffered a total loss in the 2017 and 2018 wildfires to collect Additional Living Expense and full replacement cost benefits
- Pay the balance due on replacement cost, extended replacement costs, and building code upgrade cost benefits, up to all policy limits
With these hardships in mind, the Trust decided due to hardships claimants face, partial payments on claims could be released earlier. That adjustment means victims working to file with the Trust must file an exception, to be waived from rules about victims having to submit a completed claim to get money from the Trust more quickly, and sign a document of truthfulness. Those steps will place a claim in the queue to get compensation.
And to get the preliminary partial payments — scheduled to begin Nov. 23 on a rolling basis — each household must complete a questionnaire, signed under penalty of perjury, containing as much information as available about real and personal property, personal injury, wrongful death and other claims damages.
Gardner said his lawyer has submitted all forms needed for validation — “Every step has been made.” But he said as he is 68 and his wife is 76. After two years they worry they will continue to be in debt for some time before the claim is assessed and compensation is paid.
”Our concern is that we’re going to die before we see a dime,” he said.
While the Trust is not able to comment on individual cases like Mr. Gardner’s, where a claim was filed but no response has been heard, there is still time to receive all claim submissions from fire victims.
Feb. 26 will be the deadline for the claims questionnaire submissions. The initial disbursement date for payments on all eligible claims will begin March 15.
However, according to the Trust an initial share of as many claims as possible will be paid, not the entire amount claimed. This is because in bankruptcy law, all claims in a collective trust have to be paid the same “pro rata” (proportionate allocation, a process where whatever is allocated will be distributed in equal portions) percentage share, so everyone gets the same percentage cut of the total amount available.
In addition, the Trust only has about half of funds needed, and the rest is currently tied in stocks. Therefore, if a whole claim is worth $1 million for example and the trust determines a share is 30%, that person would get $30,000. For now, the pro rata percentage which can be paid to each claimant starting in March has not yet been determined due to ongoing evaluations of the current budget.
So, the Trust promises claimants should be able to look forward to at least a portion of the claims this spring. However, at this time no timeline has been set for payment of the remaining amounts for all wildfire victims’ claims.