PacifiCorp must pay punitive damages for wildfires, plus compensation of up to billions

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon jury has ruled electric utility PacifiCorp must pay punitive damages for causing devastating wildfires in 2020 — in addition to an earlier verdict that is expected to already amount to billions of dollars.

Wednesday’s ruling came two days after jurors found PacifiCorp liable for the fires and said it had to pay for property damage as well as emotional distress. The jury awarded $73 million to 17 landlords named as plaintiffs in the case, with damages for a broader class involving owners of nearly 2,500 other properties to be determined later.

PacifiCorp, owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment conglomerate, based in Omaha, Nebraska, said it would appeal the liability verdict and damages.

The Multnomah County Circuit Court jury in Portland on Wednesday found that PacifiCorp’s negligence warranted additional damages to punish the public service’s alleged disregard for the safety of others and to deter such conduct in the future. . The jury determined that the amount should be a quarter of whatever is ultimately awarded for property damage and emotional distress, meaning punitive damages could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars or more.

The 2020 Labor Day weekend fires were among the worst natural disasters in Oregon’s history. They killed nine people, burned more than 1,875 square miles (4,856 square kilometers), and destroyed more than 5,000 homes and other structures.

The owners alleged that PacifiCorp negligently failed to shut off power to its 600,000 customers during a windstorm, despite government warnings at the time. Kate Brown’s chief of staff and senior fire officials, and that her power lines were responsible for several fires.

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