After a two-month trial, a Multnomah County jury returned verdicts for the plaintiffs in the class action case James v. PacifiCorp, No. 20CV33885. Stoll Berne was co-lead counsel for the class of victims of four wildfires: the Santiam Canyon fire, Echo Mountain Complex fire, South Obenchain fire and 242 fire. The jury found PacifiCorp liable to the entire class for negligence, gross negligence, trespass, private nuisance and public nuisance. The jury also found that PacifiCorp’s conduct was reckless and willful. Finally, the jury found that PacifiCorp should pay an additional 25% multiplier to the plaintiffs and the entire class for punitive damages.
The jury awarded more than $71 million to the 17 class representative plaintiffs (an average of more than $4 million per class representative), including between $3 million and $4.5 million in noneconomic damages per plaintiff. In addition, plaintiffs’ property damages claims are subject to doubling under Oregon law. Liability on all claims, including punitive damages, was established as to each member of the class, which is believed to number in the thousands. The money awarded to the class representatives and each member of the class will be increased by 25% as a punitive damages multiplier. The court has not yet determined the timing and specific nature of the damages proceeding. After all damages claims are determined, damages to the entire class could total billions of dollars.
Trials for claims against electric utilities for damages from wildfires are extremely rare. This is believed to be the first such case to be tried as a class action anywhere in the country. We are extremely proud to have represented the victims in this historic case.
Assisting Cody Berne were Stoll Berne attorneys Tim DeJong and Emily Johnson, and litigation support specialist Wes Mueller. The class was also represented at trial by our friends at Keller Rohrback LLP, Edelson PC and Johnson Johnson Lucas & Middleton. Nick Kahl, LLC also assisted with the litigation.
- NPR, June 15, 2023: Oregon jury finds electric utility PacifiCorp liable in devastating wildfires
- Axios, June 14, 2023: Oregon jury: Berkshire’s PacifiCorp must pay punitive damages for fires
- Associated Press, June 14, 2023: Oregon jury: PacifiCorp must pay punitive damages for fires, plus award that could reach billions
- Associated Press, June 12, 2023: PacifiCorp could be on the hook for billions after jury verdict in devastating Oregon wildfires
- OPB, June 12, 2023: Jury finds PacifiCorp owes more than $73 million for causing 2020 Oregon wildfires
- Reuters, June 12, 2023: Jury finds Berkshire’s PacifiCorp unit liable in 2020 Oregon wildfires
- Wildfire Today, June 12, 2023: Jury finds PacifiCorp liable for $71+ million