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

Freres, C.W. talking settlements with PacifiCorp

A trial to hear claims by Freres Timber Inc. and C.W. Specialty Lumber against PacifiCorp over the 2020 wildfires may be canceled as parties undergo mediation to reach a potential settlement.

During a hearing today in James et al vs. PacifiCorp in Multnomah County Circuit Court, plaintiff attorneys said an April 22 trial was likely to be canceled amid ongoing mediation talks.

PacifiCorp attorneys confirmed they are engaged in mediation and hope to reach a resolution  with the companies by the end of April.

Freres, based in Lyons, and the now-defunct C.W., formerly based in Mill City, have sued PacifiCorp for a combined $38.4 million.

The companies are part of a class of roughly 5,000 survivors of the Santiam, South Obenchain, Echo Mountain Complex and 242 fires, which sparked Sept. 7, 2020. A jury during an initial trial in spring of 2023 found PacifiCorp liable for the fires, and a second phase is underway to determine damages to the whole class.

The April 22 trial would be the third in a series of damages trials held since January, the purposes of which are to set a standard for damages during potential settlement talks.

In light of the trial potentially being canceled, plaintiff attorneys requested today that additional trials be scheduled as soon as possible to continue litigation pending claims. Judge Steffan Alexander said he would need to confer with court staff to determine available dates.

The hearing itself largely focused on PacifiCorp’s post-trial motions regarding the first damages trial that began Jan. 8. The company leveled numerous arguments against the validity of the jury’s decision, from procedural errors and prejudicial testimony, to cross-over of jurisdiction with the Oregon Court of Appeals.

Alexander said at the end of the hearing he would take these motions under advisement and render his decisions at a later date. He denied similar motions last winter after PacifiCorp challenged the 2023 verdict. 

Alexander acknowledged parties may feel a sense of urgency to have these matters resolved promptly. He compared his role as a trial judge to an emergency room doctor, in that everyone he sees thinks they should be the highest priority. He said it is his job to triage the needs of litigants and consider the resources of the court and said he will act on pending motions accordingly.

Other pending motions include a request by plaintiff attorneys to set a common benefit fee, which would be charged to plaintiffs who opted out of the James suit but still received damages from PacifiCorp. Plaintiff attorneys argued the 2023 verdict against PacifiCorp was an unprecedented achievement and paved the way for settlements and judgements in related cases, and as such they deserve compensation for their work.

Plaintiff attorneys have requested a flat 20% fee. During a hearing Dec. 1, 2023, Alexander indicated he was open to a smaller percentage, or even a fee that scaled based on how much of plaintiff attorneys work contributed to a resolution with PacifiCorp.

Alexander said today he also expected to rule soon on this matter.

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