BOUDLER COUNTY, Colo. — Boulder County governments have filed a lawsuit against Xcel Energy for injuries and damages that occurred as a result of the Marshall Fire on Dec. 30, 2021, according to the complaint obtained by Denver7 Wednesday.
This came ahead of a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family Nadine Turnbull, who was 91 years old when she died in the fire.
The plaintiffs in the county lawsuit include the Boulder Board of County Commissioners, the Town of Superior, the City of Louisville, Boulder County Public Health, Superior Metropolitan District No. 1 and the Boulder Valley School District. They're citing six things or "cause of action" to sue Xcel.
Inverse condemnation is a legal cause of action used by property owners when a governmental entity takes an action which damages or decreases the value of private property, according to Cornell University.
"The injuries and damages to Public Entity Plaintiffs were the inescapable and unavoidable consequence of Xcel’s Electrical Equipment as deliberately designed, constructed, and maintained. This damage was the necessary and probable result of Defendants’ public improvement that supplied electricity for a public use," the lawsuit said of the inverse condemnation charge.
When it comes to the negligence charge, the lawsuit said Xcel had a responsibility to provide the highest possible care to the services provided. The company breached these duties, according to the plaintiffs, by failing to properly inspect and repair its electrical equipment. The lawsuit also alleges Xcel failed to recognize, identify or discover the safety threat and fire hazard presented by its maintenance of the electrical system.
The Boulder County Sheriff released its findings in June of 2023 of the cause and origin of the Marshall Fire. The investigation found hot particles from a disconnected Xcel power line caused one ignition point in the massive blaze. Embers from a residential fire, which was set on Dec. 24 and reignited by wind six days later, was the source of another ignition point, according to the investigation.
Mass action lawsuit alleges Xcel Energy is to blame for Marshall Fire
"As a direct and proximate result of the negligent conduct of Defendants, and each of them, Public Entity Plaintiffs have suffered damages, including, but not limited to... loss of... open space, and public lands; loss of public parks; property damages including real and personal property... evacuation expenses... economic damages such as losses from impacts on business like and/or proprietary activities; costs associated with response and recovery including debris removal, emergency response, soot and ash remediation; and other costs associated with soil and/or air quality testing and other related expenses; damage to infrastructure including but not limited to roads, sidewalks, water, stormwater and sewer systems, and underground infrastructure," the lawsuit said of the negligence charge.
In its investigation, the Boulder County Sheriff's Office found the Marshall Fire burned more than 6,000 acres and destroyed over 1,000 homes.
Premises liability law establishes the obligations property owners have to people on their land, especially when someone is injured, and the types of compensation an injured party can receive, according to Forbes. To prove a premises liability charge, a plaintiff has to prove the defendant owned or occupied the property at the time of the injury, the defendant was negligent in maintaining the property, the plaintiff suffered an injury as a result of the defendant's negligence and you can be compensated for the injury, Forbes said.
"Defendants own power utility equipment caused and contributed to multiple fires in Colorado in the past two decades. Defendants therefore knew of the particular dangers associated with fires and failed to use reasonable care to guard against or warn Public Entity Plaintiffs about the risks of harm," the lawsuit said of the premises liability charge.
The plaintiffs framed their trespassing accusation as they did not agree to Xcel's actions they say caused the Marshall Fire to unlawfully enter onto their properties.
"Defendants negligently and/or recklessly allowed the Marshall Fire to ignite and/or spread out of control, causing harm, damage, and/or injury resulting in a trespass upon Public Entity Plaintiffs' property interests," the lawsuit said of the trespass charge.
Public nuisance means conduct that interferes with the rights of the public, according to Cornell University.
The plaintiffs in this case allege Xcel's negligence created conditions that were harmful to the public health, obstructed the use of free public property and the use of public streets and highways with a "completely predictable fire hazard," according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit accuses the energy company of violating the plaintiffs' right to "occupy, enjoy and/or use" the property they own when it was damaged by the Marshall Fire.
Xcel Energy released the following statement in response to the lawsuit Wednesday night:
"Our thoughts are with the families and communities impacted by the devastating wildfire in Boulder County. We agree with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office report that the Marshall Fire started as a result of an ignition on a property (5325 Eldorado Springs Drive) previously reported to be affiliated with an entity called the Twelve Tribes, and that this ignition had nothing to do with Xcel Energy’s powerlines.... We strongly disagree with any suggestion that Xcel Energy’s powerlines caused the second ignition, which according to the report started 80 to 110 feet away from Xcel Energy’s powerlines in an area with underground coal fire activity.... We have reviewed our maintenance records and believe the system was properly maintained. We operate and maintain our electric system consistent with leading energy service practices."
The plaintiffs are asking for relief related to the damage and loss of open space and parks, all property damages, all increased staff labor costs, evacuation expenses, tax revenue losses and attorneys' fees associated with this lawsuit, just to name a few.