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

PacifiCorp decision delayed after new arguments in court

A decision on whether or not PacifiCorp should pay damages to fire survivors who received insurance payouts has been delayed after new arguments were raised in court.

A hearing was held Oct. 13 in James et al vs. PacifiCorp on whether or not the company should pay $4.4 million out of a $90 million verdict due to PacifiCorp’s recent settlement with insurers.

A Multnomah County jury found the company liable June 12 for negligently causing the Santiam, South Obenchain, Echo Mountain and 242 fires on Labor Day, 2020. A second trial phase is under way to determine damages to a class of 5,000 fire survivors.

PacifiCorp settled with a group of 191 insurance companies in May for an undisclosed amount. It argues this agreement, by extension, settled outstanding claims with plaintiffs who received payments from these insurers.

During the Oct. 13 hearing, held before Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Steffan Alexander, parties also argued whether or not the court should enter an official judgment against PacifiCorp. This would set a date from which post-judgment interest could be calculated, while also deciding whether or not economic damages should be doubled under state laws penalizing wildfires caused by negligence.

The $90 million verdict included $4.4 million in economic damages, the amount PacifiCorp claims it should not have to pay due to the insurer settlement.

PacifiCorp argued that allowing fire survivors to calculate interest on yet-to-be-paid damages would amount to additional punitive damages, as the defendant would essentially be penalized for non-payment. PacifiCorp attorney Brad Daniels claimed, as punitive damages of 25 percent were already imposed by the jury, this would be double-dipping, which he said is prohibited under state law.

Plaintiff attorney Cody Berne said these arguments came out of the blue and were not in PacifiCorp’s previous court filings. He said plaintiffs requested post-judgement interest at the outset of the lawsuit so this was not new, and accused PacifiCorp of stalling to delay the calculation of interest.

At the end of the hearing, Alexander said he would take these matters under advisement and issue rulings at a future date. He asked both parties to resubmit written filings reflecting their most current arguments. As of press time, Alexander had yet to issue new rulings.

A separate hearing is scheduled for Nov. 9 to determine if the jury’s decision should be set aside and a mistrial declared. PacifiCorp argues the jury did not follow state law or listen to the evidence in finding the company liable, and that witness testimony about fire deaths may have created undue prejudice.

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