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

PacifiCorp files protest of Phase 2 $84M verdict

PacifiCorp has asked the court to throw out a recent $84.2 million wildfire verdict as a new jury is set to hear additional claims later this month.

On Feb. 12 the company filed a multi-pronged motion in Marion County Circuit Court in James et at vs. PacifiCorp, arguing a Jan. 23 verdict was not factually based or legally appropriate.

The motion claims the jury ignored the scope defined by Phase I of the lawsuit last year, and in doing so awarded damages plaintiffs were not entitled to.

PacifiCorp also argued the case should not have gone before a jury as the company continues its appeal of Phase I in the Oregon Court of Appeals.

“The Phase II trials have proven fundamentally flawed for a host of reasons,” read the motion. 

“Many of these defects echo flaws from the Phase I trials or that PacifiCorp has otherwise raised in prior briefings.”

The motion asked Judge Steffan Alexander to either vacate the verdict, to issue a correct verdict himself, or to set a new trial. The motion also renewed PacifiCorp’s request to decertify the class of fire survivors, which both Alexander and the appeals court have rejected in response to prior motions.

As of press time a hearing to potentially consider the Feb. 12 request had not been set.

A similar motion seeking to overturn the Phase I verdict on similar grounds was rejected by Alexander in December of 2023.

A Phase I jury ruled June 12, 2023, that PacifiCorp negligently caused the Santiam, South Obenchain, Echo Mountain Complex and 242 fires on Labor Day 2020.  Phase II, which concluded in January, determined the amount of damages owed for nine fire survivors. 

It was the first in a series of three damages trials. It presented the claims from a cross section of nine plaintiffs. 

A similar trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 26 to hear claims from ten additional class members. The third “Phase 2” trial is scheduled for April 22 for claims from two lumber companies.

Following the Jan. 23 verdict, PacifiCorp filed a motion Feb. 14 asking that damages be reduced by $5.2 million to offset insurance payments received by plaintiffs related to the fires. 

Additionally, PacifiCorp settled with a class of 191 insurers in May of 2023 for $55 million. Alexander has ruled that payments from these insurers can be deducted from jury awards.

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