PacifiCorp, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, is facing $30bn in claims from victims of the 2020 Labor Day wildfires in Oregon, US.

The demand is a significant increase in the legal challenges faced by the utility, which is one of the largest grid operators in the country.

The claims have been filed in a state court in Portland as part of a class action lawsuit by 1,000 victims seeking compensation for the destruction of 2,500 properties in western Oregon.

Each claimant is seeking up to $30m – $5m for tangible losses and up to $25m for intangible losses such as emotional distress.

The amount sought in the amended complaint is roughly two and a half times the value of the utility itself, and significantly exceeds payouts from all claims resolved to date.

In a previous legal decision, a jury ordered PacifiCorp to pay $90m to 17 claimants for gross negligence due to the utility’s failure to shut down power lines during a windstorm.

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Up to late February 2024, the company had settled wildfire claims totalling $735m with several hundred individuals and ten timber companies.

Despite being found liable for its role in the fires, PacifiCorp is appealing the verdict and has criticised the plaintiffs’ demands as excessive.

The company stated: “The $30m demand for each plaintiff clearly demonstrates the need for some manner of reform in the legal process.

“PacifiCorp’s ability to provide essential services is being threatened by excessive wildfire damages pursued by plaintiff’s attorneys who have a substantial financial stake in these outcomes.”

The issue of wildfire liability is not unique to PacifiCorp; it has become a concern for utilities across the western US, with Berkshire chairman Warren Buffett highlighting the risk in his annual letter to investors.

Berkshire Hathaway has acknowledged facing fire claims in Oregon and California amounting to $8bn, including more than $1bn from government agencies for firefighting and clean-up costs.

The utility’s failure to act on weather warnings and shut off electricity ahead of the windstorm was a focal point of the 2023 trial.