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Wrongful Death Suit And Criminal Charges Filed Against SoCalGas For Porter Ranch Gas Leak

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As SoCalGas continues to try to stop the massive gas leak near Porter Ranch, the utility faces mounting legal issues, including criminal charges and a wrongful death lawsuit.On Tuesday morning, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced that she filed a lawsuit against SoCalGas, bringing the total number of government agencies investigating or suing the gas company up to 11, according to the L.A. Times. Harris alleges that the utility violated state laws by failing to control the leak and not notifying authorities about the leak until days after it was discovered. Hours after Harris filed suit, criminal charges were filed against SoCalGas by Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey.

"While we recognize that neither the criminal charges nor the civil lawsuits will offer the residents of Los Angeles County a complete solution, it is important that Southern California Gas Co. be held responsible for its criminal actions," Lacey said in a statement.

SoCalGas faces four misdemeanor charges, three for each day they failed to report to authorities after the leak was discovered, and one for the discharge of air contaminants. They face fines up to $25,000 for each day they failed to report the leak and $1,000 per day that methane has leaked from the well at their Aliso Canyon facility.

"The impact of this unprecedented gas leak is devastating to families in our state, our environment, and our efforts to combat global warming. Southern California Gas Company must be held accountable," California Attorney General Harris said in a statement. "This gas leak has caused significant damage to the Porter Ranch community as well as our statewide efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the impacts of climate change."

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Also on Tuesday, the family of a 79-year-old Porter Ranch resident filed a wrongful death lawsuit against SoCalGas, claiming the leak worsened Zelda Rothman's already fragile health until her death on January 25. Rothman was already suffering from Stage 4 lung cancer by the time the leak started in late October. "It went downhill for her very quickly from November to December," her son, Michael Rothman, said to the Los Angeles Daily News. "She led a perfectly normal life from March through end of October."

Councilman Mitch Englander has also called on the Public Utilities Commission to look into a spike in gas rates for customers while SoCalGas works on plugging the leak, according to City News Service. "I am simply not buying that these two incidents are not related," said Englander.

The methane leak was discovered on October 23 and since then, over 80,000 metric tons of methane have been released into the atmosphere. Over 5,000 families in the nearby Porter Ranch neighborhood have been relocated after residents began complaining of health problems, such as headaches, nausea and nosebleeds. SoCalGas says they expect the leak to be plugged by the end of February, at the earliest.