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

Fire survivors file 1,000 new claims in James suit

Plaintiffs in a wildfire lawsuit against PacifiCorp have filed 1,000 new individual claims for damages in an attempt to set additional trials during the damages phase of the case.

On April 29, plaintiffs in James et al vs. PacifiCorp submitted a mass filing of claims in Multnomah County Circuit Court and demanded that jury trials be held to resolve the claims.

Each claimant sought $5 million in economic damages, $25 million in noneconomic damages, 25% punitive damages and a doubling of economic damages for willful negligence. This came to $42.5 million each, or $42.5 billion total.

As of press time no new trials had been set and no new claims had been filed.

This was the first mass submission of claims since the suit was filed in 2020. Prior filings had been for fewer than 20 claimants at a time for individual trials.

During a Phase 1 trial in 2023, a jury awarded 17 claimants $95 million after finding PacifiCorp negligently caused the Santiam, South Obenchain, Echo Mountain Complex and 242 fires in 2020. Phase II then began to determine damages to a class of roughly 5,000 individuals.

Phase II trials held in January and February resulted in a combined $122 million in damages for 19 plaintiffs, bringing the case-wide total to $217 million for 36 claimants.

If the 1,000 claims are awarded at a similar rate, total damages could exceed $6 billion. 

Of the new claims filed April 29, 684 were for the Santiam Fire, 198 were for the Echo Mountain Complex Fire, 90 were for the South Obenchain Fire and 28 were for the 242 Fire. They included a mixture of those who suffered damage to primary residences, rental properties or vacation homes, with 460 claiming the total loss of a primary residence.

Of the 1,000 claims, numerous were filed by individual members of the same household, including 118 claims by minors represented by a guardian ad litem.

Sixty-two claimants were classified as “priority plaintiffs,” defined as those who are 70 years or older, or those with health concerns that may interfere with their interests in the lawsuit.

One claim was for a business, Otis-based Northwest Homes.

One prominent claimant was Sen. Fred Girod (R-Silverton) who lived near Lyons at the time of the fires. His claims included total loss of a primary residence, loss of personal property, expenses from being displaced, personal injury, past and future medical expenses, and emotional distress.

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