PacifiCorp could be on the hook for billions after jury verdict in devastating Oregon wildfires

George Coble carries a bucket of water to put out a tree still smoldering on his property destroyed by a wildfire in 2020, in Mill City, Ore. (AP Photo/John Locher)

PORTLAND, Ore. — A jury in Oregon on Monday found the electric utility PacifiCorp responsible for causing devastating fires during Labor Day weekend in 2020, ordering the company to pay tens of millions of dollars to 17 homeowners who sued and finding it liable for broader damages that could push the total award into the billions.

The Portland utility is one of several owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s Omaha, Nebraska-based investment conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway. The property owners, suing on behalf of a class of thousands of others, alleged that PacifiCorp negligently failed to shut off power to its 600,000 customers during a windstorm, despite warnings from then-Gov. Kate Brown’s chief-of-staff and top fire officials, and that its power lines were responsible for multiple blazes.


There has been no official cause determined for the Labor Day fires, which killed nine people, burned more than 1,875 square miles (4,856 square kilometers) in Oregon, and destroyed upward of 5,000 homes and structures. The blazes together were one of the worst natural disasters in Oregon history.

In a written statement, lawyers for the plaintiffs called the decision historic and said it “paves the way for potentially billions of dollars in further damages for the class members.”

PacifiCorp immediately said it would appeal.

“Escalating climate change, challenging state and federal forest management, and population growth in the wildland-urban interface are substantial factors contributing to growing wildfire risk,” PacifiCorp said in an emailed statement after the verdict. “These systemic issues affect all Oregonians and are larger than any single utility.”

The Multnomah County Circuit Court jury awarded more than $73 million to 17 homeowners who sued PacifiCorp a month after the fires, with each receiving between $3 million and $5.5 million for physical damage to their property and distress.

The jury also applied its liability finding to a larger class including the owners of nearly 2,500 properties damaged in the fires, which could push the price tag for damages well into the billions of dollars. Those damages will be determined later.

The jury heard testimony Monday afternoon over whether to make PacifiCorp pay punitive damages. Nick Rosinia, an attorney for plaintiffs, told the jurors they should award punitive damages totaling five times what they have already been awarded for the harm PacifiCorp caused.

“For its reckless and outrageous action on Labor Day, it’s the only way they will truly get your message,” Rosinia said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email