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Energy Providers Face a Class Action Lawsuit After Devastating Labor Day Wildfires

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Energy Providers Face a Class Action Lawsuit After Devastating Labor Day Wildfires

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In the wake of the Oregon wildfires beginning September 7, 2020, energy providers PacifiCorp and Pacific Power are facing a class action lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that their negligence in failing to de-energize their powerlines after the National Weather Services warned Oregonians to prepare for historically strong wind events led to catastrophic wildfires. These fires ravaged the state and left many people homeless and without protection in the midst of a pandemic.

When wind speeds surpassed 75 mph as predicted, powerlines energized by PacifiCorp and Pacific Power toppled, igniting the surrounding environment.

Plaintiffs Jeanyne James and Robin Colbert are representing similarly situated people affected by the fires. Their lawsuit alleges that these energy providers failed to de-energize their powerlines, despite being fully aware that high winds and dry conditions had created the perfect environment for wildfires to start and grow out of control. In addition to facing claims of negligence in this lawsuit, these energy providers are also facing private nuisance, public nuisance, and trespassing claims for the damages which occurred by fire and the effects of the fire on private and public property.

Homes, businesses, and schools were destroyed across Oregon, leaving many destitute.

The wildfires destroyed entire communities across Oregon, particularly in the Clackamas, Santiam, McKenzie, and Umpqua River areas. These fires left thousands of Oregonians without a place to live, seeking shelter in campgrounds, cars, and support shelters. The lawsuit points out that all of this would be tragic at any time, but has the particular added hazard of the COVID-19 pandemic at this time. Without proper access to hygiene and protective equipment, many of the people who lost their homes due to the fires are particularly exposed to the virus.

The class action complaint is currently seeking “only equitable relief” for the losses of the wildfire victims.

The class action complaint filed by the plaintiffs and supported by many others who will be affected by the outcome of the lawsuit is currently only seeking financial relief for the losses suffered by the victims; this may include compensation for lost homes, vehicles, medical bills, etc. However, the complaint also includes the plaintiffs’ demand for a trial by jury and states that they reserve the right to add a claim for punitive damages.

Punitive damages refer to monetary compensation for victims intended as a corrective measure or punishment for the negligent party to prevent the same event from occurring again. However, the compensation required to provide even equitable relief for the many parties who suffered from the fires is likely to be a strong deterrent in itself if the lawsuit is successful.

Investigation into the downed powerlines is ongoing.

This lawsuit hinges upon the results of an ongoing investigation into the causes of and contributions to the wildfires. These energy providers are not the only utility companies likely to face liability for the fires. As more information about the genesis of the disaster comes to light, it is possible this will not be the only lawsuit seeking compensation for the fires’ victims.

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