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PacifiCorp to Pay $178M to Oregon Wildfire Victims

It's the latest settlement over deadly 2020 blazes.

Pink fire retardant covers a car at an area destroyed by the Almeda Fire, Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Talent, Ore.
Pink fire retardant covers a car at an area destroyed by the Almeda Fire, Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Talent, Ore.
AP Photo/John Locher, File

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Pacific Power, part of PacifiCorp, said Monday it has agreed to a $178 million settlement with over 400 Oregon plaintiffs in the latest multimillion-dollar payout related to the deadly 2020 wildfires that ravaged the state.

In other cases that have gone to trial over the past year, Oregon juries in multiple verdicts have ordered PacifiCorp to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to victims. Ongoing litigation could leave it on the hook for billions.

The majority of the 403 plaintiffs in the settlement Monday were affected by the Echo Mountain Complex Fire that devastated Oregon's central coast, said George McCoy, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, while others were impacted by the Santiam Fire that raged east of the state capital Salem in northwestern Oregon.

In a statement, the utility said it has settled nearly 1,500 claims stemming from the Labor Day 2020 wildfires. The blazes were among the worst natural disasters in Oregon's history, killing nine people, burning more than 1,875 square miles (4,856 square kilometers) and destroying thousands of homes and other structures.

"We think this is a great way for our clients to be able to rebuild and recover from these traumatic events, and we think that this will give them the ability to start that process now," McCoy said.

PacifiCorp faces more lawsuits over the blazes, including one filed last month by dozens of Oregon wineries and vineyards seeking over $100 million in damages. In their suit, the wine producers alleged that the utility's decision to not turn off power during the Labor Day windstorm contributed to blazes whose smoke and soot damaged their grapes and reduced their harvest and sales.

Last June, a jury found PacifiCorp liable for negligently failing to cut power to its 600,000 customers despite warnings from top fire officials. The jury determined it acted negligently and willfully and should have to pay punitive and other damages — a decision that applied to a class including the owners of up to 2,500 properties.

Thousands of other class members are still awaiting trials, although the sides are also expected to engage in mediation that could lead to a settlement.

Last week, Oregon utility regulators rejected a request from PacifiCorp that sought to limit its liability in wildfire lawsuits.

Under the proposal, the utility would only have been responsible for paying out actual economic damages in lawsuit awards. The Oregon Public Utility Commission said the request was too broad, and that such a move would prohibit payouts for noneconomic damages such as pain, mental suffering and emotional distress.

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