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

Hearing today to challenge PacifiCorp lawsuit results

A hearing is set for today to argue whether or not a Portland judge should throw out portions of a wildfire lawsuit against PacifiCorp ahead of Phase II trials beginning in January.

Both the defense and plaintiffs in James et al vs. PacifiCorp have filed motions for partial summary judgment in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

Judge Steffan Alexander is set to hear their arguments Friday morning and could render judgment that day or take the matter under advisement.

PacifiCorp was found liable June 12 for negligently causing the Santiam, South Obenchain, Echo Mountain Complex and 242 fires in 2020. Seventeen plaintiffs were awarded $94.4 million, and 10 additional plaintiffs will have claims heard Jan. 8, 2024, as part of efforts to test the strength of roughly 5,000 remaining class claims.

Plaintiffs filed their motion for partial summary judgment Nov. 3, taking exception to PacifiCorp’s continued insistence that it should be allowed to argue causation during Phase II. Plaintiffs said the Phase I jury already determined PacifiCorp caused the fires, and asked Alexander to rule against the company’s defenses related to caution for the Jan. 8 trial.

“PacifiCorp’s defenses are neither proper nor viable in light of the Phase I jury verdict,” said plaintiffs in their motion. “Yet PacifiCorp simply refuses to acknowledge the jury’s clear verdict.”

PacifiCorp filed its own motion for partial summary judgment Nov. 9, claiming the $252 million in damages sought by Jan. 8 plaintiffs are excessive.

“Following the jury’s verdict in the Phase I trial, plaintiffs have loaded up their damages claims in the pursuit of ever more leverage and fees,” read the motion. “Oregon law does not permit plaintiffs’ tactics.”

PacifiCorp claimed plaintiffs are seeking non-economic damages for “emotional distress” with no corresponding physical losses that would allegedly qualify them for such damages. They asked Alexander to rule in the company’s favor on non-economic recovery claims in excess of what is allowed by law and which are not supported by the evidence.

PacifiCorp also took issue with plaintiffs’ request to recover fees charged by PacifiCorp to wildfire survivors for the costs of restoring power to their properties after the fires. PacifiCorp argued these claims of “overbilling” are unfounded and not supported by the Phase I verdict or state law and asked for Alexander to rule in their favor on these claims.

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