Two wrongful death lawsuits have been filed over the deadly 2020 Santiam Canyon wildfires.
A wrongful death lawsuit was filed earlier this week by two families who lost family members last year during the Santiam Canyon wildfires. The suits were filed in Multnomah County and claim the “power company failed to prevent their deaths when it didn’t turn off power amid warnings of historic winds that could fuel wildfires.” They further allege that “Marion County and Stayton emergency agencies failed to adequately alert residents as the fire raced toward communities.”
The suits were filed on behalf of the Mosso/Tofte family and the Cook family by a personal injury law firm in Portland, Paulson Coletti Trial Attorneys. According to the lawsuits, “Peggy Mosso and Wyatt Tofte, a 71-year-old grandmother and 13-year-old grandson, died while trying to escape the Labor Day 2020 wildfires,” and “Cathy Cook and Justin Cook, a 71-year-old mother and 41-year-old son, also died.” All four died at their homes on North Fork Road SE.
In the Mosso/Tofte lawsuit, the family is seeking $102 million in damages while the Cook lawsuit is seeking $40 million in damages. When commenting on the suit, John Coletti of Paulson Coletti said:
“Both families have been destroyed by what happened and at this point, we just want to get to the bottom of why and how this tragedy occurred, and hopefully prevent it from ever happening again.”
Coletti also noted that the lawsuits were filed in “Multnomah County — not Marion County where the wildfires took place — because a number of the defendants conduct regular and sustained business activity in Multnomah County.” The defendants in each suit include Pacificorp; Pacific Power, an assumed business name for Pacificorp; Consumers Power, Inc.; Marion County; Stayton Fire District; and Marion Area Multi-Agency Emergency Telecommunications (METCOM).
In both suits, the families claim “Pacificorp and Consumers Power were negligent in failing to de-energize its powerlines, and that Marion County, METCOM and Stayton Fire were negligent in failing to provide evacuation warnings and/or evacuate residents on North Fork Road.”
What happened, exactly? Well, on Labor Day 2020, the “Beachie Creek and Lionshead fires, both sparked by lightning, merged in the Santiam Canyon” at the same time the National Weather Service predicted historic winds in the region. Those winds ended up knocking down power lines, “left many residents without power, and stirred upspot fires that did most of the damage in the canyon.”
Because of the downed power lines and poor cell service, “not everyone received emergency alerts and evacuation notices.” To help counter this, Marion County Sheriff’s Office deputies “went door to door but couldn’t get to everybody before having to evacuate themselves.” However, the lawsuits claim the families were never told to evacuate.