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

Judge allows reduced fire lawsuit payouts

A Portland Judge has allowed PacifiCorp to reduce damages to fire survivors who received insurance payouts after the company settled related claims with insurers in May.

On Dec. 1, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Steffan Alexander granted a motion to offset economic damages in James et al vs. PacifiCorp.

The ruling impacts plaintiffs who received payments from roughly 200 insurers who settled in Allstate et al. v. PacifiCorp and 21st Century Centennial et al. v. PacifiCorp. 

This includes six James plaintiffs who were among 17 class members awarded a total of $90 million in damages by a jury in June. The jury had found PacifiCorp liable for negligently causing the Santiam, South Obenchain, Echo Mountain Complex and 242 fires on Labor Day 2020.

PacifiCorp agreed to pay the class of insurers $55 million to resolve all claims related to these fires. In an Aug. 28 motion in James, the company said this also resolved corresponding claims brought by James plaintiffs.

At issue was a state law allowing insurance companies to seek damages for client losses as though those losses were their own. PacifiCorp argued James plaintiffs could not receive insurance payments for now-settled losses then seek their own damages for the same losses, calling this “double-dipping.”

James attorneys argued PacifiCorp was misapplying the law and said the settlement did not resolve individual claims but was a general agreement for insurers to drop all claims. They also said the $55 million settlement paled in comparison to the estimated $450 million in insurance claims filed during 2020 related to the four fires.

Parties argued the matter during a hearing before Alexander Oct. 13. In his Dec. 1 order, Alexander said his decision to grant the motion was supported by PacifiCorp’s arguments.

The order said PacifiCorp may deduct the full amount of insurance payments to affected plaintiffs from the economic damages awarded to those plaintiffs.

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