Did SoCal Edison’s failure to keep its equipment updated and in repair lead to the deadly Thomas Fire? It was the largest wildfire in the state’s history, and it destroyed vast parts of both Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

If SoCal Edison is responsible for the wildfire, does that also mean it’s responsible for the lethal mudslides that followed in January when rains hit the burn areas? The fire destroyed the vegetation that would normally have kept mudslides from occurring.

That alleged chain reaction is the basis of the wrongful death lawsuits being leveled against the embattled electric company. At least three wrongful death lawsuits have been filed so far, along with a host of property damage lawsuits related to the loss of homes, businesses and livestock.

While the official investigation into the Thomas Fire is still ongoing and SoCal hasn’t formally been named as its direct cause, attorneys for the victims are moving ahead with their lawsuit. They claim that the electric company knew for years that its equipment was unsafe and the vegetation around potential sources of fire wasn’t properly being managed. It had been fined repeatedly for the failures.

According to various sources, two transformer explosions just a few miles apart from each other set the Thomas Fire in motion. It eventually engulfed more than 281,000 acres of land and took five weeks to stop. Storms then led to flash floods, adding to California’s woes, killing around 21 people. It’s highly likely that these first wrongful death lawsuits related to the destruction won’t be the last.

It’s important to remember that wrongful death claims only have to prove that the defendant’s negligence was more likely than not to have been responsible for the victim’s death. That’s a much lower standard than what is used in criminal investigations and can make it possible to recover damages even when the evidence isn’t entirely clear or investigations aren’t complete. It’ll be up to a jury — if the cases aren’t settled out of court — to decide if the mudslides would have still probably happened if it hadn’t been for the fire and SoCal’s lax maintenance.

Source: CBS Los Angeles, “Family Of Montecito Mudslide Victim Files First Wrongful Death Lawsuit,” March 29, 2018