BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A Kern County jury has sided with PG&E in a defamation lawsuit brought by a business owner who said he lost millions of dollars as a result of what he claimed were false statements made by the utility in connection with a deadly 2015 explosion.
The jury found several of the alleged statements were in fact made by the utility about owner Jeff Alexander’s Big N Deep Agricultural Development in McFarland, but rejected his claims that the statements were false.
For example, the jury found it to be true that PG&E issued a press release saying, “Mr. Jeff Alexander and his companies have repeatedly conducted illegal and unsafe excavations in Kern County, including the Nov. 13, 2015 fatal dig-in in Bakersfield.” But the statement wasn’t false, the jury said.
No damages were awarded.
A spokesman for R. Rex Parris, one of Alexander’s attorneys, said they were disappointed in the outcome and looking into their options.
PG&E released a statement Friday saying, “The safety of our customers, employees, contractors and the communities we serve is PG&E’s top priority. The tragic incident that led to this lawsuit is a reminder that the State of California requires all individuals conducting excavation to do so in adherence to all safe digging laws.
“PG&E brought this action to get a restraining order preventing the defendant Big N Deep Agricultural from conducting unsafe excavations in Kern county and for damages. After this action was filed, PG&E issued a press release informing the community of the incidents that led to this lawsuit. We appreciate the time and consideration given to this matter by the jury and believe they came to the right decision.”
Alexander alleged in the suit that PG&E was responsible for the explosion near Wible and Houghton Roads that killed bulldozer operator Joseph Michael Ojeda, inflicted second- and third-degree burns to nearby resident Gloria Ruckman and her mother and sent flames soaring above power lines.
Ojeda claimed they dug within coordinates PG&E cleared after marking its gas line.