The jury selection process began in Portland on Monday morning for a $1.6 billion lawsuit filed against the electric utility PacifiCorp. PacifiCorp is accused of causing "devastation and devastation at a massive level" in wildfires that will occur in 2020 in Oregon Labor Day.
The opening arguments in Multnomah Circuit Court will begin on Tuesday, with Judge Steffan Alex preside. The case may last for up to 8 weeks.
The lawsuit's central claim is that Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary was supposed to have de-energized power lines when an epic windstorm developed in early September 2020.
Fire survivors claim that the utility lines were allegedly not properly maintained and exposed to vegetation. This led to several fires, which in total resulted in nine deaths, more than 1 million acres of land being burned, and more than 5, 000 structures being damaged.
PacifiCorp 'strongly believes that it acted reasonably' during the windstorm, the Portland-headquartered company recently told the Oregonian.
Although neither Oregon or U.S. agencies issued final reports about the fires in question, power lines that were downed were mentioned shortly after the fires started. In order to prove their case, plaintiffs will likely rely on expert testimony and documents from PacifiCorp.
Their suit states that witnesses across the state saw defendants power lines start a fire or flashes and sparks coming from their power lines.
In the suit, it is noted that Portland General Electric and other Oregon utilities have shut off power in areas deemed to be dangerous. Last fall, PGE (and PacifiCorp) both shut off power in zones designated for 'public safety' due to forecasted extreme fire conditions.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs highlighted a recent deposition where Doug Grafe, the 2020 state chief of fire protection, described an evening call on Labor Day that included PacifiCorp, and other utilities. Grafe, who admitted that the state did not have the authority for shutdowns, said that he had conveyed to PacifiCorp and other utilities that it was prudent to shut down the power as the danger grew on Labor Day evening.
Plaintiffs alleged that PacifiCorp withheld and falsified and destroyed information in a pattern. PacifiCorp argued in a court filing that the call was not covered by the discovery orders. The utility stressed that Grafe couldn't'recall specifically' that Grafe explicitly told the utilities to shut off power lines.
In 2021, the company had a net profit of almost $900 million on sales exceeding $5.3 billion.