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

Families request judgment in 2020 wildfire fatality suits

Two families suing PacifiCorp for deaths during the Santiam Fire have asked the court to find the company liable after a jury in a related suit determined last year PacifiCorp caused the fire.

On Feb. 1, motions were filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court in two suits brought by the survivors of Peggy Mosso, 71, and grandson Wyatt Tofte, 13; and Cathy Cook, 71, and son Justin Cook, 41.

All four lived in the Lyons area on North Fork Road SE and died during evacuations as the Santiam Fire spread through the region Sept. 7, 2020.

Both suits claim PacifiCorp negligently caused the fire after refusing to de-energize its power lines amid high heat and wind that day. This claim of negligence was upheld in a separate case June 12, 2023, by a jury in James et al vs. PacifiCorp.

The jury’s verdict found PacifiCorp liable to all residents within the boundary of the Santiam Fire, which the Feb. 1 motions said includes the deceased. The motions argued there is no longer a legally disputable fact as to whether or not PacifiCorp is responsible for damages and requested summary judgment against the company.

James was a heavily litigated class action trial that lasted seven weeks and included dozens of witnesses,” said the motion, calling the trial “precisely the sort of proceeding” to justify summary judgment.

The families have requested a hearing to argue the matter. As of press time no hearing had been scheduled.

PacifiCorp also had yet to file any response to the motions. 

In previous filings it has denied wrongdoing and asserted its response to the fire complied with both legal standards and industry best practices.

In an amended complaint filed Feb. 6, the Cook family requested $100,000 in economic damages, $40 million in noneconomic damages and $200 million in punitive damages.

The family of Mosso and Tofte has also sued for injuries to Tofte’s mother Angela Mosso and the emotional distress of his father Christopher Tofte. On Feb. 6 they requested $10.2 million in economic damages, $90 million in non-economic damages and $400 million in punitive damages.

Additional defendants were named including Marion County, METCOM, Consumers Power and the Stayton Fire District. If summary judgment is granted against PacifiCorp, the case would continue against these parties.

Stayton Fire and METCOM were initially removed from the suit in March of 2023 after arguing they followed established policy and due diligence in ordering wildfire evacuations. The Feb. 6 complaints reasserted claims that the two failed to properly evacuate residents.

Marion County requested summary judgment in its favor in the Cook suit in September of 2023, asserting qualified immunity and claiming it did what it could amid rapidly-deteriorating conditions. On Jan. 23, Judge Beth Allen denied the motion, stating there were still matters of material fact as to the county’s potential immunity that could be decided at trial.

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