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

PacifiCorp asks for plantiffs endorsement

PacifiCorp is asking survivors of the 2020 Labor Day fires to endorse the company’s arguments against them as the first in a series of Phase II trials approaches.

In court filings Oct. 27 in Multnomah County Circuit Court, the company submitted requests for admissions to 10 plaintiffs in James et al vs. PacifiCorp ahead of a trial set for Jan. 8, 2024.

The trial will determine individual damages for the 10 plaintiffs after the company was found liable in June for the Santiam, South Obenchain and Echo Mountain Complex and 242 fires.

Similar trials are set for February and April 2024. The outcomes will help determine the strength of remaining cases for roughly 5,000 class members.

According to Cornell Law School, requests for admissions involve parties responding under oath to prepared questions, and are commonly used to establish undisputed facts prior to trial.

According to the Oregon Rules of Civil Procedure, parties have 45 days to respond or to object after being served with a request for admissions. If no response or objection is received, the matters at issue will be considered “admitted” and legally settled.

PacifiCorp’s Oct. 27 filings asked plaintiffs to admit to the claims the company has leveled against them throughout proceedings that it argues release the company from liability. 

Requested admissions included that plaintiffs did not see the fires start or watch the fires damage their property. PacifiCorp has previously claimed those things when arguing a lack of evidence. 

The company also asked plaintiffs to admit they failed to prevent or mitigate their own losses, which was an affirmative defense in PacifiCorp’s formal answer to the initial complaint.

Other requests relate to whether or not plaintiffs suffered injuries from the fires, received insurance payments, have since rebuilt, and their annual income and lifetime earnings. 

A total of 23 requested admissions were in each filing.

The company also asked plaintiffs to agree with its assertion that a June 12 jury verdict finding it negligently liable for the fires did not apply to the entire class. 

The requests specifically asked the 10 plaintiffs to admit “no jury has determined that PacifiCorp’s conduct caused each and every item of damage that you seek in this Phase II trial.”

Plaintiff attorneys have repeatedly argued the June 12 verdict settled the matter of liability and Phase II is only to determine damages. They have accused PacifiCorp of improperly attempting to relitigate the issue and of filing frivolous requests to bog down proceedings.

As of press time, plaintiff attorneys had yet to respond to PacifiCorp’s Oct. 27 requests.

As the January trial approaches, a hearing is scheduled for Nov. 9 for parties to argue whether or not the June 12 verdict should be set aside or a mistrial declared. 

PacifiCorp claims the verdict was not based on the law or on evidence given during the trial, and that witness testimony about fire deaths may have prejudiced the jury.

Also pending is a request by PacifiCorp to strike three of the 10 plaintiffs from the upcoming trial, as well as the February trial, on the grounds they do not adequately represent the class. 

The company claims plaintiff attorneys improperly excluded 242 Fire survivors from among the two groups of 10, and disproportionately included claims for total losses rather than partial losses. 

A hearing to argue this matter had not been set by press deadline.

Parties are also awaiting a decision from Judge Steffan Alexander on whether or not PacifiCorp will pay full damages out of the $90 million awarded by the jury in June. PacifiCorp settled in May with a class of insurance companies over the fires, and argues James plaintiffs who received insurance payouts no longer qualify for economic damages.

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