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

PacifiCorp $90 million verdict stands

A Portland judge has rejected PacifiCorp’s request to throw out a June verdict that found the company liable for negligently causing the 2020 Labor Day fires.

Among multiple orders filed Dec. 1 by Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Steffan Alexander, he denied PacifiCorp’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict in James et al vs. PacifiCorp.

PacifiCorp filed the motion Aug. 11 claiming the verdict was based on circumstantial evidence and that jurors allegedly failed to follow state laws governing wildfire suits.

A jury had found the company liable June 12 for negligently causing the Santiam, South Obenchain, Echo Mountain Complex and 242 fires and awarded $90 million to 17 plaintiffs. Phase II of the lawsuit is under way to determine damages for an estimated 5,000 remaining class members.

Plaintiff attorneys argued evidence presented during the Phase I trial, including testimony from PacifiCorp’s own witnesses, clearly implicated the company in the fires. 

In the Dec. 1 order, Alexander said his decision was based on plaintiffs’ arguments.

The same order denied PacifiCorp’s request for a new trial, and its request to decertify the James class.

Alexander also added $4.4 million to the $90 million verdict through an Oregon law allowing double economic damages for wildfires caused by negligence. 

These additional damages will not be included in the calculation of punitive damages, said Alexander, which were set at 25 percent of total damages.

With the verdict intact, a series of Phase II trials is set to begin Jan. 8, 2024. A total of 22 plaintiffs will have juries decide their claims during three bellwether trials, helping set a standard by which claims from remaining class members may be resolved.

Alexander’s Dec. 1 orders also denied motions by PacifiCorp to reduce punitive damages, and to exclude the June 12 finding of liability from applying to the entire class. 

Alexander granted a motion by plaintiffs for an official entry of judgment, and denied plaintiff’s request to begin applying prejudgement interest on unpaid damages.

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