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

Freres, C.W. talking settlement with PacifiCorp

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

Lawsuits by local lumber companies against PacifiCorp over the 2020 wildfires may be settled prior to an upcoming trial in April as parties engage in mediation.

During a hearing March 21 in Multnomah County Circuit Court, plaintiff attorneys said an April 22 trial involving Freres Timber, Inc. and C.W. Specialty Lumber, Inc. was unlikely to proceed.

Freres, based in Lyons, and the now-defunct C.W., formerly based in Mill City, are seeking a combined $38.4 million for losses from the Santiam Fire.

Their suits were initially filed separately and have since been consolidated with James et al vs. PacifiCorp. The April 22 trial was to be the third in a damages phase of the lawsuit.

An initial phase in 2023 found PacifiCorp liable for negligently causing the Santiam, South Obenchain, Echo Mountain Complex and 242 fires on Sept. 7, 2020.

During the March 21 hearing, PacifiCorp attorneys confirmed they are engaged in mediation and hope to reach a resolution with the companies by the end of April.

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

As of press time, the April 22 trial was still scheduled and no additional proceedings had been set.

The hearing itself largely focused on PacifiCorp’s post-trial motions regarding an initial 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. 

Alexander 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 for a common benefit fee, which would be charged to fire survivors who received damages from PacifiCorp in separate lawsuits. 

Plaintiff attorneys argued the 2023 verdict was unprecedented and paved the way for settlements and judgments in related cases, and claimed 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 scaling fee based on how much of plaintiff attorneys’ work contributed to a resolution with PacifiCorp.

Alexander said March 21 he also expected to rule soon on this matter.

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