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

Judge sets April deadline limits in PacifiCorp lawsuit

An April deadline has been set for state regulators to determine whether or not PacifiCorp can change its contract with ratepayers to significantly limit lawsuits, including those for wildfires.

The Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) has until April 9, 2024, to issue a final order on PacifiCorp’s request to add a limited liability clause to its user application for electric service.

This deadline was set Dec. 20 by Administrative Law Judge Katherine Mapes following a virtual conference the previous day to discuss timelines and expectations for the matter.

The order also gave PacifiCorp until Jan. 23, 2024, to file an opening brief, while PUC staff and intervenors were given until Feb. 20, 2024, for their briefs.

PacifiCorp originally filed a request with PUC Oct. 24 to modify its application for electric service.

The proposed change would prohibit customers from filing lawsuits except for what PacifiCorp called “actual damages” from physical losses directly resulting from the use of its services. This would restrict possible non-economic damages such as for pain and suffering and losses from wildfires caused by storm damage rather than customer use of electricity.

The company said these changes were needed because their credit rating was downgraded after wildfire survivors were awarded $90 million in June in James et al vs. PacifiCorp. A Portland jury found the company liable for negligently causing the Santiam, South Obenchain, Echo Mountain Complex and 242 fires on Labor Day 2020.

The Oct. 24 request said the contract amendment would help improve the company’s borrowing ability and prevent further downgrades from other pending lawsuits. It requested the changes go into effect Nov. 29 and that all customers enter into this new agreement by virtue of using its services. 

PUC suspended the matter Nov. 28 after staff said they required time to research whether or not the request was legal or had precedent. By state statute the effective date of the proposed change was pushed out nine months to Aug. 30, 2024.

The proposed change also caught the attention of other utilities and consumer rights advocates. Petitions to intervene have been filed by Oregon Citizens Utility Board (CUB), Oregon Consumer Justice, Alliance of Western Energy Consumers and Idaho Power.

CUB was entitled to intervene by law, while the remaining petitions were approved in Mapes’ order. 

A fifth petition to intervene remains pending, filed Dec. 18 by Samuel Drevo on behalf of the James class, of which Drevo is a member. The petition said he and class members were directly impacted by PacifiCorp’s attempts to “eliminate many categories of damages” and should be able to participate in proceedings.

PacifiCorp told Mapes Dec. 20 it was unsure whether or not a class of litigants could receive intervenor status and Mapes gave the company until Dec. 29 to file a brief opposing the petition.

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