Southern California Edison is the subject of a disaster victim lawsuit once again — this time from residents of mudslide-ravaged Montecito, which bore the brunt of the damage from the rainstorms that slammed into the southern Central Coast in early January.
The complaint against the utility, filed Friday and expanded Tuesday, was filed in the Superior Court of Santa Barbara County by attorney Joseph Liebman and the firms Foley, Bezek, Behle & Curtis, LLP and Robertson & Associates, LLP. The Montecito Water District also was named as a defendant in the case.
Robertson & Associates previously filed a case in Ventura County Superior Court, naming SCE and the Casitas Municipal Water District as defendants. That lawsuit alleges that malfunctioning SCE transformers triggered the Thomas Fire, which would go on to become the largest wildfire in modern California history.
The complaint filed in Santa Barbara court claims that, due to its alleged link to the fire, SCE also bears responsibility for devastating mudslides that killed at least 20 people, destroyed 100 homes and damaged hundreds more while closing part of Highway 101.
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The Thomas Fire, which the lawsuit alleges SCE could have prevented with better maintenance and infrastructure, stripped the Los Padres National Forest’s upper slopes of vegetation, “reducing the amount of water taken up by plants or absorbed into the soils” and leaving the hills of southern Santa Barbara County exposed.
“The fire left these areas susceptible to excessive runoff, erosion mud and debris flows in the event of a heavy rainstorm event,” the complaint states.
As heavy rains began Jan. 8 and intensified Jan. 9, the complaint alleges the Montecito Water District’s main line ruptured, dumping 9 million gallons of water “into and down local creeks in the hills upslope and above Montecito.”
“The resulting flow of mud, debris and water swept down and over homes, businesses and roadways from the Los Padres National Forest to the Pacific Ocean, destroying and damaging homes and businesses, injuring and killing residents, and rendering vast areas of Montecito uninhabitable,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit calls for SCE to pay the costs of repair and replacement of damaged and destroyed property, lost wages, attorney fees and “damages for emotional distress.”
A spokesman for SCE did not return a Tribune request for comment Tuesday afternoon.