Jan 23, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Oregon utility must pay $85 million to homeowners for 2020 fires damage

A charred vehicle is seen in the parking lot of the burned Oak Park Motel after the passage of the Santiam Fire in Gates, Oregon, on September 10, 2020.

A charred vehicle is seen in the parking lot of a burned motel after the Santiam Fire swept through Gates, Oregon, in September. Photo: Kathryn Elsesser/AFP via Getty Images

A jury in Portland, Oregon, determined Tuesday that PacifiCorp, an electric utility owned by billionaire Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, should pay $62 million plus other costs to nine survivors of the Labor Day 2020 wildfires that swept the state.

The big picture: A PacifiCorp spokesperson said the utility intended to appeal the decision in the first trial that counsel for the plaintiffs noted in an email was "exclusively on individuals' damages" after a historic class action verdict last year that established the utility was liable over the deadly fires.

  • It is the second jury verdict awarding damages over the "mega fires" that killed nine people. PacifiCorp could face billions of dollars in liability to the thousands of homeowners affected by the blazes that ravaged the state on Sept. 7 and 8 of that year.

By the numbers: The verdict consisted of more than $6 million in economic and $56 million in non-economic damages.

  • This translates to an award of more than $85 million after the doubling of economic damages and the addition of punitive damages of 25% that are automatically applied given the jury's verdict in the first phase of the case, per a statement for representatives for the plaintiffs' attorneys.

What they're saying: Cody Berne, lead trial attorney for Stoll Berne, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers in the case, in an emailed statement paid tribute to those who testified in the case — including a 101-year-old World War II veteran and a man who leapt into the river beside their property and hid for hours while the fire consumed their hand-built home.

  • "This trial was about these brave people," Berne said. "It was also about a corporation and its owners at Berkshire Hathaway who refuse to take any accountability. We thank the jury for holding PacifiCorp accountable."

The other side: "The 2020 wildfires were undeniably tragic," PacifiCorp said in a statement to media. "PacifiCorp has settled and will continue to settle all reasonable claims for actual damages under Oregon law."

What's next: The next damages trial that's due to begin Feb. 26 will seek compensation for another nine fire survivors and a camp that works with people with disabilities, which operates at a location where the plaintiffs say a power line started a fire on the night of Labor Day 2020.

  • The third damages trial is set for April 22.

Go deeper: Fire weather has increased in Portland in the past 50 years

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