CHICO, Calif. – Recently Action News Now’s weekend digital editor, Lorraine Dechter, spoke with Fire Victim Trustee John K. Trotter (Ret.) and Claims Administrator Cathy Yanni to find out more about how the claims process operates and how swiftly the process is moving in order to speed up payments to survivors of several wildfires proven to be caused by Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E).
The Fire Victim Trust (FVT) was set up “to evaluate, administer, process, and resolve” eligible claims arising from the 2018 Camp Fire, 2017 North Bay Fires, and 2015 Butte Fire.
The FVT’s mission is to provide “an efficient and equitable process to review and compensate Fire Victims for both economic and non-economic damages caused by these fires, including destruction or damage to real estate and personal property, additional living expenses, lost wages, business losses, personal injury or death, related medical expenses, and emotional distress.”
This marks the third time Dechter has interviewed Claims Administrator Cathy Yanni, and the first time she has spoken with Judge John K. Trotter, the FVT’s Trustee.
Judge Trotter clarified that he is hopeful that the FVT will be able to make payments at 50% of approved claims (instead of the 30% pro-rata payments that are being sent out to claimants currently) by the Fall of 2021.
However, Judge Trotter is reticent to make a firm commitment to that timeline for the two main reasons listed below:
- They don’t know how much money will be yielded in the future by PG&E stock sales by the Trust
- 65% of the claims have been found by the FVT to be “incomplete,” missing some vital information that is needed before pro-rata payments can be made
Yanni explained they have hurried up the process for “preliminary payments” that are given prior to the entire claims awards are approved and signed. They have also increased the preliminary payments and have provided more than one preliminary payment to some claimants.
Dechter asked Yanni for a list of the common “impediments” to claim completion that they are seeing at the FVT that are slowing down the payment process. Their hope is that the PG&E wildfire claimants will work with their attorneys to assure that the items in the list are all available to the FVT, or if a claimant is representing themselves (pro se) they can make sure all of their needed documents are in the FVT portal for quicker resolution and payment. (See the bottom of this article for Yanni’s list of the most common “impediments” to making payments to claims more expediently.)
Judge Trotter explained why it is difficult to increase the percentage of claims that they can pay at this time. ” I don’t know how much money I have to give to the victims to award them,” he said.
Judge Trotter said he is concerned about the value of the PG&E stocks the FVT holds on the claimants’ behalf. “The stock keeps falling, falling, falling…” he said.
In the video you can hear the Judge’s explanations about the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) payments that are required to be paid by the FVT when stocks go up in value. He said individuals will not be required to make payments to the SEC.
The two top FVT administrators also explain more about the trusts that are being established for minors for their claim payments. (This was discussed more by Claims Administrator Yanni in a previous interview. Links to previous FVT interviews are at the end of this article.)
Below is Pt. 1 of the most recent interview with Judge Trotter, the FVT Trustee, and Cathy Yanni, the FVT Claims Administrator.
Action News Now provided FVT Claims Administrator Cathy Yanni with two lists of claimants who were in “dire straits” and were in need of expedited consideration of their payment status. Dechter asked Yanni how the progress on the expedited payments is going.
Yanni talks about her efforts to expedite those payments for people in dire need in the rest of the interview, which is embedded below.
Judge Trotter and Claims Administrator Yanni were also given an opportunity to share anything else that they think people should know about the FVT and their payment/claim processes.
Judge Trotter said he wants people to understand, “One of the things that is so hard about a claim like this, is that it is so diverse. It has so many parts to it and the victim is so badly traumatized and so stripped of any ability to prove their claims because everything got burned. So it makes it much harder,” he explained.
In his closing statement, Judge Trotter shared the timeline he hopes that the FVT can meet to pay money to all of the claimants. “In the next 12 months we are going to move a significant portion of these claims to final determination, whether it’s going to last all next year or not, I don’t know.”
Claims Administrator Yanni closes with an appreciation for fire claimants’ and attorneys’ “cooperative spirit.” She said it’s important for that attitude to prevail in communications in order to “keep moving forward.“
“We really, really do want to help everybody,” she said.
Here is the closing of the interview.
Below are links to previous stories about the workings of the Fire Victim Trust. We have also added a link to the webpage that is updated with the most current numbers of claims paid by the FVT and the amount they have distributed.
Here is the list of common “impediments” to quick claims resolution provided to Action News Now by the Fire Victim Trust. If claimants make sure these documents are in their uploaded case information it should make their cases payout faster than other claimants' cases whose files lack these documents.
- Documentation reflecting proof of residency and/or ownership of the property
- All required narratives to support claims
- Tax Returns/income statements, if the claimant filed a Personal Income Loss or Business Income Loss claim
- All necessary insurance documentation, including Alternative Living Expenses/Loss of Use information
- All previously issued notices Deficiency Notice issues regarding verification of the claimant’s Tax Payer Identification number have been resolved
- If the claimant submitted more than one Claims Questionnaire, they must confirm the Claims Questionnaire ID they would like to the FVT to evaluate
As of July 15, 2021, the FVT has paid $254.6 million to claimants for preliminary payments. Also, $240 million has been paid in pro-rata payments of 30% of approved claim totals. 2,485 claimants have already received pro-rata payments.
On Monday, August 2, 2021, Action News Now is scheduled to speak with FVT Claims Administrator Yanni again as she releases new numbers for claims payments sent out on July 30, 2021. (Pro-rata payments are made every two weeks.)
CLICK HERE to see the FVT’s latest numbers report from July 15, 2021. This page is updated every time there is a new financial report issued by the FVT.