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

December date set for PacifiCorp verdict challenge

Wildfire survivors have to wait until at least December to learn the fate of a $90 million verdict against PacifiCorp as parties prepare their arguments for the complicated issue.

A hearing date of Dec. 1 has been set in Multnomah County Circuit Court to consider a request by defendants to set aside the June verdict in James et al vs. PacifiCorp.

Defendants made their request in a series of motions filed Aug. 11, which also included a request for a new trial and a renewed request to decertify the class of 5,000 plaintiffs. 

Plaintiff attorneys told the court the length and complexity of these motions require extended time for a response. They estimated all rebuttals would not be filed until at least Nov. 8.

Parties expect they will need multiple hours to argue their points before Judge Steffan Alexander and the earliest date for such a lengthy hearing was Dec. 1. Alexander could render a decision that day, but may also take an indefinite amount of time to consider his ruling.

A jury ruled June 12 that PacifiCorp negligently caused the Santiam, 242, Echo Mountain and Obenchain fires when its equipment was damaged during a historic windstorm on Labor Day 2020. 

They awarded 17 named plaintiffs $90 million, and a second trial phase is pending to determine individual damages for remaining class members.

On Aug. 11, defendants argued the jury’s decision was invalid because of an alleged lack of evidence, and because jurors allegedly did not follow state laws regarding wildfire damage awards.

PacifiCorp also requested a new trial because of decisions by Alexander limiting arguments it was able to present to the jury. They also said potentially-prejudicial statements by witnesses about deaths from the fires could be grounds for a mistrial.

Prior to Dec. 1, two other pivotal hearings were scheduled.

On Friday, Sept. 8, parties argued whether or not Phase II of the trial should begin swiftly or should be stayed pending defendants’ motions. A summary of this hearing will be available at canyonweekly.com.

And on Oct. 13 a hearing is scheduled to argue whether or not Alexander should enter a judgment on the jury’s $90 million verdict, officially compelling PacifiCorp to pay plaintiffs. Defendants would still be allowed to delay payment through appeals, however an entry of judgment would allow plaintiffs to begin calculating post-judgment interest.

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