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

A James et al refresher

A group of 10 wildfire survivors, including five from the Santiam Canyon, are scheduled to have their claims against PacifiCorp heard during a damages trial scheduled to begin Monday, Jan. 8.

The trial, expected to last through Jan. 17, is the first in a set of Phase II proceedings for James et al vs. PacifiCorp in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

Below is a summary of events that brought the lawsuit to this point and what could happen afterward.

Canyon residents file suit

Survivors of the Santiam Fire, which sparked during high heat and wind Sept. 7, 2020, filed suit against PacifiCorp Sept. 30, 2020, claiming damaged power lines sparked the blaze. PacifiCorp denied all wrongdoing.The lawsuit was consolidated with numerous others, and on May 23, 2022, a class was certified to include survivors of the Sanitam, South Obenchain, Echo Mountain Complex and 242 fires. The class is estimated at 5,000 individuals.

The lawsuit was split into two phases, one to determine whether or not PacifiCorp was responsible for the fires and a second to determine damages for individual plaintiffs.

The Phase I trial

The trial for Phase I began April 24, 2023, with 17 named plaintiffs standing in for the class. Jurors heard testimony about how PacifiCorp refused to de-energize its equipment during the wind storm, and destroyed or withheld evidence that it knew the harm it was causing.

On June 12 the jury awarded the 17 plaintiffs $90 million and found PacifiCorp had caused all four fires and was liable to the whole class.

PacifiCorp continued to deny wrongdoing and on Aug. 11, 2023, filed a motion to invalidate the verdict, claiming the jury had ignored the evidence and the law. Judge Steffan Alexander denied this motion Dec. 1 and Phase II was allowed to proceed.

Phase II begins

Phase II includes trials on Jan. 8 and Feb. 26 to each hear claims from 10 class members, and on April 22 to hear claims from Freres Timber and C.W. Specialty Lumber.

Alexander’s stated goal for these trials is to reveal information on the strength of remaining class claims that parties can use to pursue settlements. If after these trials parties cannot come to terms, Alexander reserves the right to order forced class-wide mediation.

If claims remain pending after mediation, additional Phase II trials could be scheduled, said Alexander.

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