U.S. District Judge James Donato will calculate the final dollar amount owed all victims in the estimation hearings, set to start Feb. 18. His determination will be the sum PG&E must hold for payment before it can exit bankruptcy. Arguments over ground rules for the hearings have been heated.
Judge Donato last month criticized the way PG&E notified fire victims about filing claims. At the time, only about half of the 100,000 potentially eligible people had filed ahead of the Oct. 21 deadline.
"Maybe PG&E should have gone to each of the trailers" provided by government emergency services and asked, "How do we help you fill out your form?" the judge said. The utility has since extended the deadline to Dec. 31.
Arriving at a figure for fire damages will involve weeks of debate among experts on such matters as the cost a square foot to replace homes destroyed, and the proper compensation for lives lost.
Lawyers for fire victims say PG&E should pay punitive damages because it knew its lines posed a public threat.
"PG&E strongly disagrees with the suggestion PG&E knew of specific maintenance conditions that caused the Camp Fire and nonetheless deferred work that would have addressed those conditions," the PG&E spokeswoman said.
Victims also say PG&E should pay for emotional damage, another decision for Judge Donato. The PG&E claim form asks fire victims if they had been diagnosed with mental or emotional injury as a result of the fires.
Lianna Price was 12 weeks pregnant when she and her husband escaped Paradise with their three children, ages 5 and under. The kids are still troubled by what happened.
"We drive somewhere, and there's a dust cloud, and they say, 'Mommy, is that a fire? Do we have to go?' " Ms. Price said.
--Elisa Cho and Jim Oberman contributed to this article.
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