The California Second Appellate District’s Sixth Division has denied a rehearing request by Presbyterian Camp and Conference Centers Inc. PCCC, which argued Santa Barbara Judge Thomas Anderle wrongly denied their pleading to throw out a Cal Fire lawsuit for the costs of suppressing the 2016 Sherpa Fire.
According to court records, the Court of Appeal denied the request on Dec. 9. The order affirmed the court’s Nov. 18 published opinion that found that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s lawsuit should survive because state law allows corporate liability in wildfire cases.
PCCC, which does business as Rancho La Sherpa, contended it should not be held responsible for the actions of an employee who accidentally started the Sherpa Fire.
“But corporations cannot act on their own; they “‘necessarily act through agents.’ Thus the law draws “no distinction between [a] corporation’s ‘own’ liability and vicarious liability resulting from [the] negligence of [its] agents,” wrote the court in its opinion.
Rancho la Sherpa argued the legislative history of the relevant wildfire laws suggests corporations are not meant to be considered persons in wildfire cases.
The Court of Appeal disagreed, explaining that at the time the relevant code sections were written, the legislature must have been aware of existing case law and related enacted laws and it “intended to maintain a consistent body of rules.”
“We interpret the words in the context of related statutes, harmonizing them whenever possible,” the court wrote.
“It (PCCC) contends the (trial) court erroneously overruled its demurrer because sections 13009 and 13009.1 do not permit it to be held liable for its employee’s negligent or illegal acts. We disagree and deny the petition.”
“We also presume the Legislature was aware of the judicial interpretations of those laws, and that it intended that the same interpretation apply to related laws with identical or substantially similar language.”
The Sherpa Fire broke out in June 2016 and burned 7,474 acres in the Refugio hills. It was fully contained July 12, 2016.
Santa Barbara County Fire Department investigators determined the Sherpa Fire was started by an employee living on Rancho La Scherpa who was burning a log in his indoor fireplace. The wind picked up, causing smoke to fill the residence, and when the resident carried the burning log to an outside water faucet, hot embers fell to the ground and ignited vegetation.