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Oregon jury awards $85 million to 9 victims of deadly 2020 wildfires

Chairs stand at the local post office in the aftermath of a fire in Gates, Ore., on Sept 9, 2020. An Oregon jury on Tuesday awarded $85 million to nine victims of wildfires that ravaged the state in 2020, in the latest trial faced by utility PacifiCorp over its liability in the deadly blazes.
Mark Ylen
/
Albany Democrat-Herald via AP
Chairs stand at the local post office in the aftermath of a fire in Gates, Ore., on Sept 9, 2020. An Oregon jury on Tuesday awarded $85 million to nine victims of wildfires that ravaged the state in 2020, in the latest trial faced by utility PacifiCorp over its liability in the deadly blazes.

PORTLAND, Ore. — An Oregon jury awarded $85 million Tuesday to nine victims of wildfires that ravaged the state in 2020, the latest verdict in a series of legal proceedings that are expected to put the utility PacifiCorp on the hook for billions of dollars over its liability for the deadly blazes.

"We are so proud of the strength and resilience of our clients, and thankful to the jury for holding PacifiCorp accountable for what happened on Labor Day 2020 — something it will never do itself," Nick Rosinia, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, said in a statement.

PacifiCorp expects post-verdict rulings and insurance payments to bring its share of the verdict to just under $80 million, the company said in a statement.

"The 2020 wildfires were undeniably tragic," it said. "PacifiCorp has settled and will continue to settle all reasonable claims for actual damages under Oregon law. ... The growing threat of wildfires to communities and businesses is bigger than any one company or industry."

The fires 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 upward of 5,000 homes and other structures.

Last June a jury found PacifiCorp liable for damages for negligently failing to cut power to its 600,000 customers despite warnings from top fire officials, saying its power lines were responsible for multiple blazes. PacifCorp has appealed.

That jury awarded around $90 million to 17 homeowners named as plaintiffs in the case, with damages to be determined later for a broader class that could include the owners of about 2,500 properties, as estimated by plaintiffs' attorneys.

The damages awarded Tuesday were the first in cases brought by that broader class, with additional trials expected in February and April.

PacifiCorp also agreed last month to pay $299 million to settle a lawsuit brought by 463 plaintiffs who were harmed by separate devastating wildfires in southern Oregon over Labor Day 2020.

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The Associated Press