OTLA Trial Lawyer Winter 2024

18 Trial Lawyer • Winter 2024 By Emily Johnson OTLA Guardian By Cody Berne OTLA Guardian Jim Holland remembered that the road home from work was covered with debris and downed trees from the raging east winds on Labor Day 2020. He made it home and turned to getting two kids ready for their first day of school the next day. The power went off and on several times, which got the kids riled up. Around 11 p.m., Holland heard an explosion. About fifteen minutes later, a parade of fire trucks and emergency vehicles sped by. Soon, the trucks turned around and Jim heard yelling, “Get out now!!!” He opened the door and was greeted by a wall of flames, fifty feet high. He rushed inside, grabbed his kids “in a football carry” and stuffed them in the car. He did the same thing with the family’s two dogs and two cats. He did not know if his family would survive. In James v. PacifiCorp, the jury heard from Holland and 16 other plaintiffs about Oregon’s Labor Day fires of 2020 and their aftermath. Jurors experienced the fear, anxiety and grief that the plaintiffs lived through and are still living with because of the fires. Jurors also heard from top state officials, including Governor Kate Brown’s chief of staff and the Oregon Department of Forestry’s chief of fire protection, about the extreme fire danger that day and their urging power companies to take action. PacifiCorp’s CEO, in contrast, testified there was nothing that the corporation should have done differently. In James v. PacifiCorp, Stoll Berne, along with co-counsel from Keller RohrCody Berne Emily Johnson Motions in Large Trials back, Johnson Johnson Lucas & Middleton, Nick Kahl LLC and Edelson PC, represented fire survivors in a class action against PacifiCorp, an investor-owned power company responsible for starting many fires during the Labor Day storm. This case is about thousands of Oregonians who were erased — their homes burned, their communities destroyed — by entirely preventable fires. Trial was split into two phases. The first phase included an eight-week trial at the Multnomah County Courthouse from April to June 2023, before the Honorable Steffan Alexander. This first trial was further bifurcated between a compensatory damages phase and a punitive damages phase. The jury was asked to determine whether PacifiCorp was liable to the entire class for starting fires in four communities — Butte Falls, Chiloquin, Otis and the Santiam Canyon — and to determine damages for the 17 named plaintiffs. The jury also had to determine whether a punitive damages multiplier — and in what amount — would be applied to class members’ economic and noneconomic damages. The next phase of the litigation, to determine the economic and noneconomic damages for every other class member, began with trials in January 2024. Using this case as a template, this article discusses motion practice during long trials in state court, how to prepare for motions and, at the same time, keep