A $35-million lawsuit has been filed by a utility claiming that a tree-trimming company failed to properly maintain vegetation before the 2011 Central Texas wildfires destroyed nearly 1,700 homes. The lawsuit filed by Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative names Asplundh Tree Expert Co. of Willow Grove, Pa.The Labor Day 2011 blaze was started when strong winds knocked down trees that crashed into overhead power lines, causing sparks, according to a Texas A&M Forest Service investigation.

Bluebonnet has been sued by more than 50 homeowners whose residences burned in Bastrop County, 30 miles east of Austin. In 2005, Bluebonnet contracted with Asplundh to manage vegetation, including trimming trees, along the utility’s 11,000 miles of power lines in 14 counties, including Bastrop. A signed agreement between the utility and Asplundh, in which the contractor assumes responsibility and liability for any destruction of property that isn’t caused by negligence on behalf of Bluebonnet, was referred to in the lawsuit.

According to a Bluebonnet spokesman, the utility filed suit in order to protect its ratepayers. It was said that the utility owed a duty to its members to do so. It was alleged that Asplundh was hired because of its expertise in vegetation management and that Asplundh failed to perform the work it was hired to do according to the contract. It will be interesting to see how this lawsuit winds up. We will continue to monitor it.

Sources: The Austin American-Statesman and The Insurance Journal

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