PG&E broke our bridge
June 1, 2012 7:47 PM   Subscribe

A PG&E vehicle weighing 54,000 lb - much more than our bridge's H20 (40,000 lb) rating - broke our bridge. Five families are served by this bridge. I would like...

The story is really weird. Our neighbor saw the '54' tag (GVWR 54000 lb) vehicle preparing to cross our 40,000 lb rated bridge and told him not to try to drive over it. The driver said "I've done it before" and went for it. Our neighbor watched as the bridge buckled beneath the truck.

The truck is trapped on "our" side of the bridge. PG&E says "we don't build bridges" and wants us to file a claim. In my view, whether they build bridges or not, they have to fix their mistakes. Therefore, I would like to know whether anyone who has been through the PG&E claims process, or better, who has made PG&E fix one of their mistakes, would let me know how best to get them to fix this one. We do not want to be responsible for managing the notoriously Byzantine Santa Cruz county permitting process, and we don't want to manage the project either. We would like to be "made whole" without hundreds of hours of administration of details related to getting this fixed.

As you can imagine, normal stuff like getting in and out of our property is tough now. It's a half-mile hike from the bridge to my house and that is pretty tough duty for my partner, never mind the elderly lady who lives a little further down the road.
posted by jet_silver to Law & Government (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
PG&E is going to have several lawyers working to minimise their liability. I would immediately get all the people affected together, meet with a lawyer and follow the lawyer's advice, which may include taking this informant off the Internet. I am sorry, the situation sucks and it isn't your fault but this is something you have to leave up to a professional.

Meanwhile, does someone have an ATV you guys can share and co-ordinate trips between the bridge and your houses?
posted by saucysault at 7:57 PM on June 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'd get the media onto this story ASAP. PG&E has had plenty of bad exposure and negative regulatory consequences for mishandling the San Bruno pipeline explosion. I'd wager you'd get some quick action if they were looking at more negative publicity. This story is tailor-made for that sort of thing.
posted by TDIpod at 7:58 PM on June 1, 2012 [13 favorites]

Call the police.
posted by rhizome at 7:59 PM on June 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

Who owns the bridge -- individuals, or a local government?

PG&E has car insurance. Presumably their car insurance company is who you should be talking to. But they can only write a check, they're not going to hire a contractor to build you a new bridge.
posted by miyabo at 8:25 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The cost of repairing the bridge includes the cost of professionals to assess exactly what needs to be done, to bid and administer the construction work, to view the progress and certify the contractor's completeness and to inspect the final work for conformance to the design standards. Get a lawyer and put together a claim that would make you whole even factoring in the need to hire professionals to manage all of this.
posted by meinvt at 8:56 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Heh, you're property sounds like my property, except we're on the opposite side of the road from the creek. PG&E probably wants their truck back, no? It's probably worth more than the bridge.

If you want to avoid dealing with a ton of administrative hassle, hire a lawyer. Otherwise, you are completely at the mercy of whatever PG&E wants to do (or not do). if they want to drag out the process and make you call them 17 times before they do anything, there's absolutely nothing you can do. If they want to force you to take them to court over the cost of the bridge, there's absolutely nothing you can do but go to court, which is exactly what you're trying to avoid. There is no magic "just fix it" button you can press. You either hope for the best dealing with PG&E directly or you pay someone else to.

For what it's worth, it should not be difficult to get remits to repair a damaged bridge. You may not need them at all (check, of course). Besides, no one in these parts of the county gets permits for anything anyway (not that I said that).
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:29 PM on June 1, 2012

Mercy of PG&E? They just killed 8 people and blew up a bunch of houses a year and a half ago. There is certainly a reporter around who would love to start sniffing around for continued patterns of cost-cutting and general dickishness.

Call the CPUC as well.
posted by rhizome at 10:53 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We do not want to be responsible for managing the notoriously Byzantine Santa Cruz county permitting process, and we don't want to manage the project either. We would like to be "made whole" without hundreds of hours of administration of details related to getting this fixed.

I feel your pain, but this is what a) general contractors, b) lawyers, and c) civil lawsuits (and routine settlements) are for. The concept that PG&E will make you whole has to do with the end point, not in them, um, building you a new bridge, which I think is something you shouldn't, given the evidence, trust them to do right.

I think you need to adjust your expectations to fit the process here.
posted by dhartung at 1:05 AM on June 2, 2012

You don't want to have PG&E fix your bridge. Because if you make them do it, they'll hire the cheapest contractor and labor they can find, and do only what's minimally required by law. You won't be happy with the result.

What you want to do is find someone you like who will fix your bridge in a way that's satisfactory to you. Get an estimate, let your lawyer and their lawyer haggle over the price, and then hire the contractor to build the bridge. What gets billed to PG&E in the end is the constructor cost, post construction costs (things that might not have been obvious during the repair but appear some time after completion), permit costs, inspection costs, and legal costs for the whole project. Maybe even an inconvenience penalty, but you might have to go to civil court to get that.

Get your neighbors together and find a lawyer to represent all of you. And make sure no one is talking to PG&E unless it's through that lawyer. PG&E does not have your best interests at heart, and they have no intention of making it easy to fix their mistake.
posted by sbutler at 2:05 AM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Is/was there a load rating sign? This will affect your ability to claim damages, I suspect.
posted by gjc at 6:07 AM on June 2, 2012

Is/was there a load rating sign? This will affect your ability to claim damages, I suspect.

The test for negligence (which is what this would be) is reasonable foreseeability. It sounds like it shouldn't be too hard to prove that the driver knew or should have known not to drive across the bridge, since he was warned not to. However, cases like these are what lawyers are for. Hire a lawyer, OP.
posted by smorange at 6:41 AM on June 2, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, folks, for the help. A few direct replies: we have vehicles on each side of the bridge, so it is only the trick of crossing the creek with groceries (or the other way with trash) that is arduous. The PG&E crew already notified fire and EMS about the lack of access. I am not sure how the sheriff can help, please elaborate? Nobody got hurt, the linesman who drove the truck was very badly shaken up - and lucky in that the truck didn't end up upside down in the creek with him in it.

I'd love to have a referral, or a means of finding, a lawyer well versed in how to deal with this kind of situation.
posted by jet_silver at 7:40 AM on June 2, 2012

I hired Terry Rein to handle my property purchase and was pretty happy with her service. I don't know if she does exactly this sort of thing, but I wouldn't hesitate to call and ask (which is exactly what I'd do if PG&E smashed my driveway or broke my well or something). Her office is on Mission St.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:05 AM on June 2, 2012

What about your own insurance company/companies? Presumably, this is some kind of private road--who owns the road and bridge? Is it covered? That's one way get help (and representation).

Litigation involving property is different than buying and selling property--the same lawyer may or may not do both (although you can get a referral that way as well). There are plenty of mefites from Northern CA (probably plenty of attorney-mefites) so probably you'll get more suggestions. Otherwise it might be worth having a look to see who's been suing PGE in your area.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:09 AM on June 2, 2012

At any rate, although this is a fairly straightforward case (factually speaking) I'd agree that you do want a lawyer.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:15 AM on June 2, 2012

Also, there are temporary pedestrian bridges you could put up in the meantime--anything from a DIY hiking trail kind of thing all the way to a prefab metal contraption.

I also found this searching for temporary solutions: a company that makes some rather attractive (permanent) bridges out of railcar decks--I have no idea how their cost would compare to a wood-framed bridge, but I'd imagine it's faster. Probably more durable. That might solve the building issue if PGE is willing to sign a check but not lift a finger. Plus, kind of a cool idea.

like this?
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:29 AM on June 2, 2012

Or rather , judging by the phoots. Their estimated pricing (from 2008) is $8800 for the bare-bones bridge @ 12' high (for the structure itself, without addons.) The company has some experience with retrofits, it would appear.

Google turns up what appear to be some other prefab competitors (although perhaps not as appealing for replacing a wood-bridge like yours on first impression.) You might call around just to see what kind of reactions you get to describing the project.

Considering there's already a bridge there, perhaps repairing/replacing it won't be quite as bad as you imagine (although I'm sure it won't be fun.)

Either way, you want to move swiftly here. You're cut off from EMS and Fire, right? That's not good.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:51 AM on June 2, 2012

Best answer: A delivery truck damaged my driveway. Their insurance company was an utter jerk about it. I got the estimates, submitted them, waited for better weather, got it repaired, and they wanted to deny the claim (long boring details omitted). I called the company, they were upset that it had taken so long and was still unresolved, so they called the insurance company and hollered at them. I got a check.

PG&E knows their driver screwed up, knows they have to cover this. Plus, they have to get their truck. Get together with the other neighbors, get a couple companies to submit repair estimates. Talk to PG&E and ask them who you'll be working with to get your claim resolved quickly and correctly. You may not have to lawyer up at all, don't accept the 1st employee's indifference. Call back and get someone to help you deal with the problem. They should realize it's in their best interest to get it resolved without lawyers.

However, do take pictures, and have any witnesses write up a report. Document all dealings with PG&E. Just in case.
posted by theora55 at 5:20 PM on June 2, 2012

Get the properly-spelled names of everyone you talk to.
posted by rhizome at 6:25 PM on June 2, 2012

Keep careful notes, including any costs (including loss of income) outside the expense of fixing the bridge.
posted by werkzeuger at 1:37 PM on June 3, 2012

Response by poster: The beginning of the week brought good things here. It is premature to be specific; therefore I won't close the thread. While a few answers that seem 'best' to me now are marked, that might change in hindsight and every one of these posts has been chewed over by the five families. They've provided valuable fuel for discussion (and community-building). I'll post again when resolution is manifested in hardware and not planning.
posted by jet_silver at 8:13 PM on June 4, 2012

Response by poster: There are now agreements in place that allow me to disclose the resolution.

Our temporary bridge is shown here and work is progressing on the permanent one. The temporary bridge is and the permanent one will be rated HS-25, meaning 50 k lb.

It did take hundreds of hours of managing administrivia to get it to happen.

PG&E acquitted itself honorably. We lawyered up as suggested above. Whether the one is related to the other is an interesting matter for speculation but it does not matter.
posted by jet_silver at 1:27 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

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