Jury deliberates on punitive damages in PacifiCorp trial

The penalty phase of the Pacificorp trial has started.
Published: Jun. 13, 2023 at 5:35 PM PDT
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) — After a day and a half of arguments, a Multnomah County jury is deliberating over punitive damages for a trial that has already placed blame on Oregon’s second largest utility for starting four of the 2020 Labor Day Fires.

The jury will decide if PacifiCorp has a history of negligence when it comes to wildfire mitigation. Since the start of the trial, lawyers for the company argued PacifiCorp is committed to preventing wildfires and was one of the first utilities in the state to come up with a mitigation plan. Lawyers for the wildfire victims said pushed back, claiming PacifiCorp has done the opposite. They argue the company has disregarded survivors of the wildfires and continues to deny any responsibility for the role their equipment might have played in igniting blazes that day.

“PacifiCorp has shown contempt for this courtroom over the past 8 weeks and contempt for the survivors who you heard from,” Cody Berne, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs said.

Douglas Dixon, a lawyer for PacifiCorp, said the company and its employees have always been dedicated to keeping their customers safe.

“You need to decide whether the woman and men of Pacific Power did not care about the harm their actions could cause,” Dixon said.

Plaintiff’s lawyers presented evidence from the Oregon Department of Forestry that pointed to PacifiCorp’s equipment as the source of ignition for nearly a dozen fires since 2009. They also said the company’s power lines started more fires in 2020 than the four the jury said they were responsible for. Lawyers pointed out PacifiCorp’s net worth of around $10 billion, claiming the company has more than enough money to pay the victims.

“This is a corporation,” Berne said. “What matters to them is money and that is the power you now have. To speak to them in the language they know, to speak to them in the language they understand and that is money.”

Lawyers for PacifiCorp emphasized they made investments since 2020 to improve their wildfire mitigation programs. They pointed to last year when the utility company enacted a public safety power shutoff during a strong east wind event. PacifiCorp also claimed they don’t have the money to pay the victims in full. They said the money could be taken away from their wildfire mitigation investments and could possibly bankrupt the company.

“The way Pacific Power can do this is by having the money and resources available to make those investments,” Dixon said.

The jury will continue to deliberate into Wednesday.