PORTLAND, Ore.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--In a historic decision, a jury in Portland, Oregon has held PacifiCorp accountable for four devastating fires that swept across Oregon on Labor Day 2020. The jury’s verdict found PacifiCorp responsible for the harm it caused to the 17 named plaintiffs—or “class representatives”—as well as to the broader class of approximately 5,000 individuals harmed by those fires. The verdict was handed down earlier this week after an intensive seven-week class action trial.
On Monday, June 12, 2023, the jury found PacifiCorp directly responsible for damages the class incurred from four destructive fires: the Santiam Canyon Fire, the Echo Mountain Complex Fire, the South Obenchain Fire, and the 242 Fire. The jury found PacifiCorp acted negligently, grossly negligently, recklessly, and willfully with regard to the entire class, and directed PacifiCorp to pay between $3 million and $5.5 million in compensation paid to each of the named plaintiffs—totaling a compensatory damage award of more than $70 million. The remaining class members will be entitled to prove up their individual damages in a subsequent phase of the case.
After the jury returned its verdict, the trial moved on to a determination of punitive damages, where the jury heard testimony through Tuesday, June 13, 2023. After deliberating, the jury today determined that PacifiCorp must pay punitive damages of .25 times the actual damages. This means that the 17 plaintiffs were collectively awarded at least $87 million, inclusive of the more than $70 million in damages already decided on Monday, June 12. Pursuant to Oregon law, we expect portions of the jury’s award will be doubled post-trial.
The decision on both liability and punitive damages is applicable to the entire class of approximately 5,000 survivors. As a result, the class members will automatically have their individual damage awards multiplied by 25%, potentially reaching billions in future compensation for the class. PacifiCorp argued in closing argument on Tuesday that punitive damages in this amount could result in $25B in total damages. The actual amount awarded to individual class members will be determined in subsequent phases.
This verdict is believed to be the first time a jury has found a utility company liable to property owners in a wildfire case. When factoring in the damages available to the class, it would be the largest civil jury verdict in Oregon history.
Plaintiffs and the class are represented by the Court-appointed Lead Counsel: Stoll Berne, Keller Rohrback LLP, and Edelson PC. They were assisted by Eugene-based Johnson Johnson Lucas & Middleton, PC.
Lead Counsel provided the following statements:
- “Finally, years after these fires, Oregonians have answers and these fire survivors have accountability. The jury confirmed what plaintiffs have long alleged: PacifiCorp is responsible for these four fires that burned thousands of properties across the state,” said Matthew Preusch, a partner at Keller Rohrback LLP.
- “The jury’s verdict is extremely gratifying after PacifiCorp refused to accept responsibility for any of the damages caused by its incompetence and utter disregard for people and property on Labor Day 2020,” said Cody Berne, lead trial attorney for Stoll Berne in the case.
- “We are gratified by the jury award and hope it sends a clear message to PacifiCorp’s executives: No matter how large or well-resourced you are, the time for denial and delay is over. The path to justice may be long, but your accountability is inevitable," said Nick Rosinia, head of Edelson’s Trial Group.
- “Our clients feel heard and vindicated. This jury’s verdict, holding PacifiCorp accountable, is so important to them and all Oregonians,” said Derek Johnson, Senior Partner at Johnson Johnson Lucas & Middleton, PC.
The case is officially named Jeanyne James, et al. v. PacifiCorp et al., No. 20CV33885 (Multnomah County Circuit Court, Oregon).
Further information about this procedure and the class action trial is available at www.PacifiCorpFireLitigation.com.
To seek additional information, fire survivors may contact Lead Counsel by dialing 503-217-6722 or 888-607-5808, or by emailing PacifiCorpFireLitigation@edelson.com.
Press may contact email@example.com for additional information.
About Lead Counsel
Keller Rohrback L.L.P.
Keller Rohrback, with offices in Seattle, Portland, Phoenix, Oakland, Missoula, New York, and Santa Barbara, serves as lead and co-lead counsel in class actions throughout the country. The team of environmental litigators has a long history of successful representation in a wide range of important environmental litigation. They have helped protect people and the environment across the country, with judgments and settlements on behalf of clients exceeding $75 billion dollars.
Stoll Berne, based in Portland, Oregon, represents plaintiffs nationwide in complex environmental, securities and other class action lawsuits. Recently, Stoll Berne represented the State of Oregon in obtaining a $698 million settlement in a PCB contamination lawsuit against Monsanto.
From cases involving environmental pollution, wildfires, the opioid epidemic and NCAA head injuries, to exposing plaintiff's lawyer Tom Girardi's multi-decade Ponzi scheme, Edelson is consistently recognized as a leader in high-stakes class and mass action plaintiff’s work. As lead counsel, the firm has recovered over $5 billion in settlements and judgments in the last two years, with its overall settlements and judgments surpassing $45 billion. Edelson PC has offices in Chicago, San Francisco, Boulder, CO, Washington, D.C., and Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Johnson Johnson Lucas & Middleton, PC
Based in Eugene, Oregon, the firm has represented individuals in catastrophic injury, employment, civil rights and workers comp cases since 1982. We represent individuals and prosecute cases to hold wrongdoers accountable.