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

Judge denies PacifiCorp’s request for trial delay

The judge in a wildfire lawsuit against PacifiCorp has rejected a request to delay proceedings and allowed the case to move forward, with Phase II trials to begin in January.

During a hearing Friday, Sept. 8, in James et al vs. PacifiCorp, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Steffan Alexander ruled against a request by defendants for a stay of upcoming damages trials.

PacifiCorp is appealing a June 12 jury verdict that found the company responsible for the Santiam, 242, Echo Mountain and Obenchain fires, which sparked Labor Day 2020. A second trial phase would allow a class of roughly 5,000 fire survivors to seek individual damages.

Defendants requested a stay last month, arguing Phase II should not begin until their appeal of Phase I and other post-trial motions were resolved.

Alexander said Sept. 8 that appeals could last an unknown number of years and a stay would need to be indefinite. He also upheld an argument by plaintiffs that PacifiCorp’s outstanding issues could still be addressed while the case was in motion.

He then set the first Phase II trial to begin Jan. 8, 2024, during which 10 to 15 class members would have their claims decided by a jury. This would be followed by similar trials in February and April, then class-wide mediation for remaining claims.

Alexander said his goal was to use the bellwether trials to gather additional information and help lead parties to a resolution. If after mediation there were still unresolved claims, any future Phase II trials would benefit from “a much more refined process,” he said.

A hearing was set for Sept. 15 to approve a case management order formally outlining this plan.

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