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

PacifiCorp pursues new trial

PacifiCorp does not expect to settle claims during Phase II of a wildfire lawsuit as it pushes instead for a re-do of a Phase I trial that concluded in June.

During a hearing Nov. 9 in Multnomah County Circuit Court, the company offered numerous justifications for a new trial, from alleged evidentiary errors to alleged prejudicial testimony.

PacifiCorp attorney Alison Plessman said, because they see so many flaws in the process that brought them to Phase II, they see no benefit in going further including out-of-court settlements.

“If the (Oregon) Court of Appeals sees any of these issues our way, we’re going to have to start the whole process over,” said Plessman.

Judge Steffan Alexander said he would issue a decision by Dec. 1 on whether or not to restart Phase I and other pending matters such as whether or not PacifiCorp must pay full damages.

A Portland jury found PacifiCorp liable June 12 for negligently causing the Santiam, South Obenchain, Echo Mountain Complex and 242 fires on Sept. 8, 2020. The jury awarded $90 million to 17 plaintiffs, and found PacifiCorp liable for yet-to-be-determined damages to a class of roughly 5,000 fire survivors.

Phase II is under way to determine those damages with bellwether trials scheduled for Jan. 8, Feb. 26 and April 22, 2024, to hear claims from a sample of 22 total plaintiffs. Alexander said these smaller trials are meant to give parties more information to negotiate resolutions of remaining claims.

PacifiCorp filed a motion Aug. 11 asking Alexander to set aside the jury’s June 12 decision, claiming evidence during trial gave no factual basis to find the company liable. 

On Nov. 9 PacifiCorp attorneys argued all the evidence submitted by plaintiffs was circumstantial and there was no direct proof presented during trial linking it to the fires.

Much of the arguments focused on the Santiam Canyon, where the Beachie Creek Fire was already burning on Labor Day 2020 and spreading westward. PacifiCorp argued plaintiffs offered no proof ruling out this fire as the cause of damages to local plaintiffs, and likewise could not rule out other potential causes of the other fires.

During the hearing, plaintiff attorneys said PacifiCorp’s arguments for a new trial were “frankly unbelievable” and demonstrated its continued unwillingness to accept responsibility for the fires.

Plaintiff attorney Nicholas Rosinia said evidence including testimony from PacifiCorp’s own witnesses and internal company documents conclusively proved the company’s negligence. He also argued PacifiCorp may not have caused the Beachie Creek Fire, but allowed it to spread when PacifiCorp fires forced first responders to evacuate the region.

Rosinia added, if there was a lack of evidence, it was because PacifiCorp engaged in a deliberate effort to conceal or destroy such proof.

“It’s rich for the defense to come in and argue there’s no evidence of causation after they then went into the (Santiam) Canyon and destroyed nearly all of the evidence,” said Rosinia.

He said a civil trial must be decided based on a preponderance of the evidence, not beyond a reasonable doubt, and argued PacifiCorp has not proven this standard wasn’t met.

(Coverage of this hearing was first published Nov. 10 at canyonweekly.com)

Previous Article

Sublimity man’s death remains unsolved

Next Article

In Memoriam: Ralph Slusser (July 19, 1941 – Oct. 25, 2023)

You might be interested in …

FAFF calls for moratorium on chicken ranches

Community organizers pushing against industrial chicken farms have called on Gov. Kate Brown to issue a moratorium on such developments until the state can craft legislation addressing the environmental hazards they pose. Farmers Against Foster […]