Lawyers for survivors, PacifiCorp lay out cases in high-stakes 2020 Oregon wildfires trial

The company is being sued for negligence after a dam collapse.

Lawyers for survivors, PacifiCorp lay out cases in high-stakes 2020 Oregon wildfires trial

Opening arguments in a $1.6-billion class action lawsuit filed against PacifiCorp in Portland focused on whether the utility should have shut off power in September 2020 to prevent wildfires.

On Labor Day evening, the plaintiff's lawyer nailed it. Washington was already ablaze. Oregon was being swept by hot offshore winds. Nicholas Rosinia, an attorney, charged that the Berkshire Hathaway-owned subsidiary did 'nothing' to stop its lines from igniting fires.

He repeated this phrase several times in front of the jury, which was chosen on Monday.

Rosinia stated that "PacifiCorp" would try to convince you it considered all options. "But ask yourself, what did it do?" Nothing.'

PacifiCorp in Oregon operates under the name Pacific Power. They called this hindsight. It portrayed a preventative shutoff as an unreliable, last-resort measure, "a sledgehammer" approach, that was not indicated by its data.

"Took reasonable precaution"

Douglas Dixon, attorney for PacifiCorp, told the jury: "You will see the women and men who worked at Pacific Power took reasonable safety precautions."

He praised the utility for being a leader when it comes to preparing for wildfires that will be more frequent due to climate change. He said that the plaintiffs ignored 'inconvenient facts' brought about by increased heat and drought.

The Portland-headquartered utility is accused of starting four of the dozen and half fires that ravaged Oregon that early September.

In the case, seventeen plaintiffs have been named. The class could include thousands who have suffered losses from the Santiam Canyon Fire east of Salem; the 242 Fire in Klamath County; the South Obenchain Fire in Jackson County; and the Echo Mountain fire, in Lincoln County.

Rosinia stated that the plaintiffs will show how poor vegetation management caused the fires by 'trees colliding into' PacifiCorp's power lines.

He kept referring to the decision of the utility not to request a PSPS (public safety power shutdown) in any of their widely dispersed service areas. Comparing it to Portland General Electric or Consumers Power.

PGE has shut off power

Rosinia replied, "PGE, well they cut off the electricity." You know what? PGE is not a defendant. They are not here. Consumers Power is a small rural electric co-op. It's not a defendant. They are not here.

Dixon, of PacifiCorp, disputed that the claims about the fire's ignition were either incorrect or speculative. He said the company will show the damage caused by the Beachie Creek Fire, which was already burning, as well as the winds driving it into Santiam Canyon.

Dixon stated that there are 41 utilities in Oregon. He asked that the jury consider the 38 other utilities who did not do advance power shutdowns.

He said, "They experienced the same weather." They were in Oregon. You didn't know anything about them.

The plaintiffs were scheduled to begin their case on Tuesday, as the trial could last eight weeks at Multnomah Circuit Court.