PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — A Multnomah County jury ruled that PacifiCorp responsible for causing devastating 2020 Labor Day wildfires.
The jury returned its decision Monday, saying the utility should be held financially liable for homes destroyed in the fires. The jury awarded millions of dollars each to 17 homeowners who sued PacifiCorp a month after the fires.
The jury also applied its liability finding to a larger class including the owners of nearly 2,500 properties damaged in the fires, which could push the price tag for damages to more than $1 billion.
There has been no official cause determined for the 2020 Labor Day fires that killed nine people, burned more than 1,875 square miles in Oregon and destroyed upward of 5,000 homes and structures. The blazes together were one of the worst natural disaster’s in Oregon history.
The trial lasted for seven weeks and was packed with witness testimony. Plaintiff’s attorneys argued that Pacific Power started these wildfires and then the company destroyed the evidence. The defense argued that Pacific Power shouldn’t be held liable for climate change, that other wildfires were to blame, and that preventative power shutoffs were rare at the time.
Pacific Power released a statement that said it plans to appeal the verdict. The Portland utility said in part:
“As a result of the historic and tragic wind event of Labor Day 2020, many of our fellow Oregonians suffered losses to their homes, businesses and communities. Regardless of the outcome, a trial will never fully restore what was lost. We are proud to have told the story of our incredible employees, who meet the call to service every day in support of our communities and customers and did so in the face of the preexisting, lightning caused Beachie Creek fire that roared into the Santiam Canyon causing widespread damage that weekend.
The company plans to pursue appeals, and we are confident we will prevail.”
PacifiCorp, one of several utilities owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s Omaha, Nebraska-based investment conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, didn’t shut off power to its 600,000 customers during the windstorm over Labor Day weekend in 2020 despite warnings from then-Gov. Kate Brown’s chief-of-staff and top fire officials, plaintiffs alleged. Its lines have been implicated in multiple blazes, one of which started in its California service territory and burned into Oregon.
This case could set precedent for power companies in the future, and their liability for wildfires when given notice of dangerous wind storms.
This is a developing story and may be updated with more details.
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