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PG&E’s Recent Punishment in Camp Fire Deaths Not Adequate for its Crime


Pacific Gas & Electric must pay a $3.5 million fine for its role in 2018’s “Camp Fire” in California — but that punishment doesn't reflect the seriousness of criminal activity that caused the deaths of dozens of Californians, according to Michigan Ross Professor Will Thomas.

Will Thomas

In a new op-ed essay for The Hill, Thomas explains that by being convicted of 84 counts of manslaughter rather than arson, PG&E avoided what could have been a fine of $200 million. The case illustrates how the criminal justice system favors companies over individuals, Thomas argues.

“Corporations receive a privileged legal status in our society, which is captured by the notion that a corporation is a legal person. But if corporations are going to receive the benefits of legal personhood, they should have to accept its burdens,” Thomas writes. “Otherwise, in a world of ever-expanding corporate rights, exempting corporations from criminal liability creates a two-tier system of legal personhood — one where, perversely, we individuals are relegated to the bottom tier.”


Will Thomas is an assistant professor of business law at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.

Media Contact: Bridget Vis, Public Relations Specialist, visb@umich.edu

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