Pacific Gas & Electric Company's petition to the state Judicial Council to consolidate all of the lawsuits brought by victims of the Sept. 9 explosion will likely be granted.
San Mateo County Judge Mark Forcum on Thursday agreed to the consolidation, which now goes to the state Supreme Court for approval.
The mass of lawsuits -- 62 and climbing -- involves at least 150 people.
"We are pleased," said PG&E spokesman Joe Molica. "What this does is allow for a quicker, more efficient process for everyone involved."
Attorney Mike Danko, who represents several of the plaintiffs, concurred.
However, "To get it set up takes forever," he said. "We're six months down the road already."
Not all victims have filed but are likely to do so; Danko said he wouldn't be surprised if the number doubled.
The decision will spare each plaintiff's lawyer from "going through all the pre-trial stuff," said UC Hastings Law professor David Levine. "It was absolutely the right thing to do."
PG&E has not contested compensating victims for their loss, in fact have already set aside a $100 million bank and started making funds available. The sole sticking point remains whether the utility will have to pay punitive damages, Levine said. It is possible the court will award a single settlement for compensatory damages and hear the case for punitive damages later, he said.
The claims tell of the horror of the sudden blasts and ensuing fireball: the untimely deaths of children, homes reduced to piles of bricks, severe burns sustained while family members searched frantically for one another.
Some attest that PG&E knew was a "ticking timebomb" and that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. failed to repair it despite its ranking as one of the most dangerous pipelines in the state. Others claim they smelled gas coming from the street and sewers at least three weeks before the pipeline ruptured.
After the decision to consolidate is approved by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the county judiciary must name a judge to hear the combined cases within three weeks. That judge must set a first trial date within 45 days.
"We will continue to work with the plaintiffs to try to resolve their concerns," Molica said. "We know it was a terrible tragedy, and we know it shouldn't have happened, although we don't know why it happened. "
The utility has launched programs to help aid victims, rebuild neighborhoods and buoy property values, he said. Plaintiffs can make use of the programs and still pursue "their right to file lawsuits," he said.