Northern California wildfire victims who settled with PG&E will receive an increased distribution payment later this month, according to retired Justice John K. “Jack” Trotter.
Wildfire victims who have already received money from the trust will receive an additional payment. Pro rata payments, which were 30 percent of the approved claim value, will be increased to 45 percent, according to Trotter.
The first sale of 477 million shares of PG&E in the trust, which were included as the bulk of the settlement, have boosted the finances of the Fire Victim Trust.
PG&E shares, which were worth $8.24 last summer, have rose to $12.25.
Trotter said the trust sold 40 million shares at $12 per share, adding about $480 million to the trust. The trust also gained $592 million when PG&E paid the last installment on a deferred payment agreement.
“We continue to focus our Trust administration efforts on doing all that we can do to ease the suffering of the fire victims,” Trotter wrote. “With this increase in distribution payments, we further our goal to get funds out of the Trust and into fire victims’ hands as quickly as possible.”
Trotter worked out an agreement with PG&E last year as a trustee, then negotiated with the IRS and the state so the trust could sell the 477 million shared without the beneficiaries being hit with capital gains taxes. However, PG&E stock fell below the break-even amount of $9 last summer, so there were no capital gains.
PG&E shares rallying since then is great news for property owners who sued PG&E, and property owners will benefit if PG&E’s stock continues to rise.
Trotter acknowledged last summer that he was at the stock market’s mercy, as well as at the mercy of events that could affect PG&E’s stock price, such as additional wildfires.
“Those are the things that keep you up at night,” Trotter said then.
The trust represents victims of the Butte Fire, North Bay Fires and Camp Fire. Once the increased payments are made later this month, the total disbursement to 35,000 victims will increase to about $2.5 billion, according to trust officials.
Plaintiffs attorneys negotiated the settlement with PG&E, and the settlement was a approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali. The settlement was supposed to be worth $13.5 billion, but that amount depends on the stock price of PG&E.
A letter was written by state legislators to Attorney General Rob Bonta which complained about how slowly money was getting to victims. Trotter responded by saying he and trust officials are getting money to victims as quickly as they can under tough circumstances.
“We recognize that because of PG&E’s bankruptcy, the fire victims have been waiting a long time for compensation,” Trotter said. “We will continue to move diligently on behalf of the fire victims to attain the highest level of compensation permitted under the Bankruptcy Court orders and the governing Trust documents.”