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

Plaintiffs defend $42.4 million verdict

Plaintiffs in a wildfire lawsuit against PacifiCorp have asked the court to again reject the company’s challenge to a jury verdict in the case, claiming PacifiCorp is re-hashing settled arguments.

On April 12, plaintiffs in James et al vs. PacifiCorp filed their opposition to PacifiCorp’s pending motion to vacate a $42.4 million verdict rendered March 5 in the second of two damages trials.

They said PacifiCorp made “few new arguments” and reused “long passages…verbatim” from prior verdict challenges.

“PacifiCorp makes the same anti-accountability arguments it has repeatedly made and that the court has repeatedly rejected,” said plaintiffs. “The court should again reject these arguments for all the reasons plaintiffs have previously given.”

PacifiCorp’s motion was filed March 29 and argued the jury’s March 5 decision was not based on the evidence or the law and should be thrown out. They asked Judge Steffan Alexander to render an appropriate judgment instead, or for a new trial to be set.

The company also renewed its motion to decertify the class of plaintiffs, made of roughly 5,000 survivors of the Santiam, South Obenchain, Echo Mountain Complex and 242 fires. PacifiCorp was found negligently liable for these fires, which sparked on Labor Day 2020, by a jury in a Phase I liability trial in spring of 2023.

PacifiCorp has denied causing the fires and is challenging the Phase I verdict in the Oregon Court of Appeals.

It’s latest motion was filed four days after Alexander rejected a similar challenge to an $84.2 million verdict rendered Jan. 23 in the first damages trial. PacifiCorp also challenged a $94.7 million verdict from the Phase I trial in the lower court and Alexander denied this motion Dec. 1, 2023.

A hearing to argue the latest verdict challenge was not set as of press time.

Meanwhile, parties are awaiting a decision on PacifiCorp’s out-of-court contacts with jurors, with no decision published as of press time.

PacifiCorp has admitted to reaching out to all 36 jurors after the three trials and to interviewing six of them, seeking feedback on the company’s defense strategies. Plaintiffs argued this violated multiple state statutes and asked Alexander to impose sanctions to correct any unfair advantages gained and to discourage future misconduct.

On April 5 Alexander ordered PacifiCorp to cease further juror outreach and to turn over records of the six interviews for his private review. PacifiCorp had until April 12 to comply and as of April 24 no further orders had been issued by Alexander.

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