Portland Jury Awards $85 Million to Survivors of Devastating 2020 Oregon Wildfires in PacifiCorp Lawsuit

OTIS, Oregon – A Portland jury has awarded nine survivors of Oregon’s 2020 Labor Day fires a total of $85 million in the latest court case against utility company PacifiCorp. The trial, which lasted a little over two weeks, marked the first in a series to determine compensation for approximately 5,000 fire victims affected by four major wildfires that destroyed numerous homes and caused extensive damage.

PacifiCorp has raised objections to the final amount, stating that they estimated it would be closer to $79 million following the judge’s ruling on post-trial motions. In a previous case held in June 2023, a Multnomah County jury found the utility company at fault for the ignition and spread of the Santiam-Beachie, Echo Mountain, South Obenchain, and 242 fires. In that particular case, the jury awarded $90 million to 17 wildfire survivors.

This time around, the jury awarded the nine survivors in the mini-trial an average of $6.9 million per plaintiff, surpassing the average of $4.2 million awarded last June. The next mini-trial is scheduled to begin on February 26, aiming to seek compensation for another nine fire survivors and the Upward Bound Camp for Individuals with Special Needs in Gates. The camp, located at the old Gates School, was affected by a fire ignited by a power line on Labor Day 2020.

Following the completion of this series of mini-trials, both parties will enter mediation in an attempt to reach a settlement, according to Multnomah County Judge Steffan Alexander’s order. The goal is to provide substantial compensation to the Labor Day fire survivors as efficiently as possible.

PacifiCorp has expressed its objections to various aspects of the proceedings, both during the original trial and after the June verdict. The company has filed an appeal regarding the issues arising from the court proceeding in June 2023 and intends to appeal the latest outcome due to the persisting fundamental problems with the case.

Among the nine fire victims in the recent mini-trial were notable individuals with compelling stories. Frank King, a 101-year-old World War II veteran and former coastal correspondent for the Statesman Journal, lost his home in the Echo Mountain Fire in the Otis area. Another plaintiff, Scott Johnson of Gates, had to escape with his wife and cat by jumping off a cliff into the North Santiam River when their house was surrounded by flames.

The jury’s verdict awarded more than $6 million in economic damages and $56 million in non-economic damages. This amount increased to $85 million through the doubling of economic damages and the addition of punitive damages automatically applied based on the jury’s verdict in the first phase of the case.

Due to PacifiCorp’s plans for a lengthy appeals process, it remains uncertain when the victims will receive their compensation. In early December, PacifiCorp agreed to pay $299 million to settle a lawsuit brought by about 220 customers affected by devastating wildfires in southern Oregon in 2020. Additionally, the utility reached a $250 million settlement with ten timber companies to resolve a lawsuit related to the Archie Creek Complex Fire in Southern Oregon.

The legal battles between fire survivors and PacifiCorp continue, with additional mini-trials and a damages trial scheduled for the coming months. The hope is that through the proceedings and subsequent mediation, the survivors will obtain the financial support they deserve for the losses incurred during the Labor Day fires.