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

Jury awards $42.5 million in second damages trial

Jurors have awarded $42.5 million in the second damages trial in Phase II of James et al vs. PacifiCorp, bolstering the potential for billions of dollars in total payouts in the case.

The verdict was announced shortly after 12:10 p.m. today in Multnomah County Circuit Court following a day-and-a-half of deliberations.

The jury awarded $5.94 million in economic damages and $23.25 million in noneconomic damages to nine survivors of the 2020 Labor Day fires and one business, Upward Bound Camp. 

A jury during Phase I last year set punitive damages at 25 percent, which for this verdict totaled $7.31 million. The court also ruled last December that PacifiCorp’s recklessness justified a doubling of economic damages, adding another $5.94 million.

This brings total damages in the suit to roughly $217.5 million awarded to 36 individual plaintiffs. With an estimated 5,000 class members remaining, jury awards could total nearly $30 billion.

A third damages trial is scheduled for April 22 to hear additional claims from Freres Timber Inc. and C.W. Specialty Lumber Inc., who are seeking a combined $34.3 million. Following these proceedings parties will enter mediation to potentially resolve outstanding claims, using the trial results as a negotiation standard.

PacifiCorp was found liable June 12, 2023, for negligently causing the Santiam, South Obenchain, Echo Mountain Complex and 242 fires on Sept. 7, 2020. The Santiam Fire alone burned more than 400,000 acres, destroyed some 1,500 structures and killed five people.

Survivors of the Santiam Fire in the recent trial included Christine Grom, Kelly Davis, Christian Bigness and Diane Turnbull. Upward Bound Camp is also locally based in Gates.

PacifiCorp has staunchly denied wrongdoing and has challenged the Phase I verdict to the Oregon Court of Appeals. It has also asked the local court to overturn the verdict of the first damages trial, delivered Jan. 23, and is expected to do the same with today’s verdict.

Access to court proceedings was provided through Courtroom View Network (cvn.com).

Editor’s note: This article was corrected to show the actual amount of economic damages.

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