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

PacifiCorp: Lawsuit limits will not impact James et al claims

PacifiCorp says a proposal to significantly limit customer lawsuits by amending its service agreement would not impact pending legal claims regarding the 2020 wildfires.

In a Dec. 29, 2023, filing with the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC), the company said a proposed limited liability clause for its Application for Electrical Service would not be retroactive.

It specifically said the proposed change “cannot threaten” claims in James et al vs. PacifiCorp, a class action suit pending in Multnomah County.

PacifiCorp said the suit, filed in 2020, predates their proposed change by multiple years, and if approved the change would only impact claims filed after the fact.

“(PacifiCorp) has not asked for any retroactive amendment to (its Application for Electrical Service) or any retroactive application of any amendment,” said the filing.

PacifiCorp requested the change in an Oct. 24, 2023, filing with PUC seeking to exclude legal claims that did not qualify as what it termed “actual damages” arising from use of its services. This would restrict claims for non-economic and punitive damages, and damages resulting from disasters such as wildfires.

PUC has been given until April 9 to approve or deny the request.

James plaintiffs filed a petition to intervene Dec. 18, 2023, through representative and class member Samuel Drevo. 

They argued the limited liability clause would eliminate entire classes of damages and threaten the ability of plaintiffs to collect damages already awarded.

A group of 17 James plaintiffs were awarded $94.4 million after a Portland jury found PacifiCorp liable June 12, 2023, for causing the Santiam, Obenchain, Echo Mountain and 242 fires in 2020.

A second phase of the lawsuit to help determine damages for roughly 5,000 remaining class members is scheduled to begin Jan. 8.

PacifiCorp’s Dec. 29 filing was in opposition to Drevo’s petition and argued, because the pending lawsuit would not be impacted, James plaintiffs had no standing to intervene. The company said it did not object to Drevo intervening as an individual if he could demonstrate he is currently a PacifiCorp customer.

PacifiCorp said, if the James class is granted intervenor status without clarifying how the proposed changes impact them, this would be an “abuse” of the process to further unrelated litigation.

Drevo was given until Thursday, Dec. 4, to respond to PacifiCorp, and in a Dec. 30, 2023, motion he requested an extension to Dec. 11. The motion was still pending as of press time.

PacifiCorp requested the change to its Application for Electrical Service after its credit rating was downgraded following the June verdict.

On Jan. 20, 2023, PacifiCorp’s credit rating was downgraded two ranks from A to BBB+ by S&P Global Ratings, who specifically cited the jury’s decision as the reason for the change. S&P also changed the financial outlooks of PacifiCorp parent company Berkshire Hathaway Energy Co. and its subsidiaries from stable to negative, indicating likely downgrades within 24 months

PacifiCorp claims this has limited its ability to acquire lower-interest financing and said a limited liability clause would prevent further downgrades and ultimately improve its financial health.

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