News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

PacifiCorp liable for $72 million; class member damages forthcoming

PacifiCorp has been found liable on all but one claim in a class action wildfire lawsuit and been ordered to pay roughly $72 million to 17 named plaintiffs, while class-wide damages are pending.

The verdict was read Monday, June 12, in Multnomah County Circuit Court after a 12-person jury spent three days deliberating in James et al vs. PacifiCorp.

A second trial phase is set to begin Monday afternoon to determine potential damages to a class of 5,000 survivors of the Santiam Canyon, Obenchain, 242 and Echo Mountain Complex fires.

The jury found PacifiCorp liable for claims of negligence, gross negligence, private nuisance, public nuisance and trespass for causing the wildfires during high-risk conditions Sept. 7, 2020. The jury did not find the company liable for inverse condemnation, defined as the taking of property without just compensation.

Plaintiffs argued PacifiCorp failed for years to manage the threat of trees in contact with its power lines, then refused to de-energize its system as tree damage sparked fires throughout Oregon in 2020. PacifiCorp denied liability and claimed it acted in the best interests of ratepayers according to the information it had at the time.

The jury awarded 17 named plaintiffs a combined $4.4 million in economic damages and $67.5 million in non-economic damages. Local plaintiffs include Robin Colbert, Jane and Sam Drevo, Brooke and Bill Edge, Lori Fowler, Iris Hampton, Jeanyne James, Kristina Montoya and Northwest River Guides LLC.

Damages to class members will be decided during a second phase that begins Monday afternoon following further instructions from Judge Steffan Alexander and could stretch into Tuesday. Plaintiffs asked for $2.2 billion in damages and unspecified punitive damages.

Court proceedings were made accessible by Courtroom View Network (cvn.com).

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to accurately reflect the number of class members and the monetary amount of damages.

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