Outreach workers handing out water to unhoused people on June 28, 2021.

Multnomah County, battered by extreme heat events that have baked County residents and drained resources, filed suit June 22, 2023, against the world’s top fossil fuel and coal-producing corporations, seeking to hold them accountable for the damages arising from the 2021 Pacific Northwest Heat Dome.

The suit alleges that the combined historical carbon pollution from the use of Defendants’ fossil fuel products was a substantial factor in causing and exacerbating the heat dome, which smothered the County’s residents for several days.   

The suit, filed in Oregon Circuit Court in Multnomah County, names Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips, Motiva, Occidental Petroleum, Anadarko Petroleum, Space Age Fuel, Valero Energy, Total Specialties USA, Marathon Petroleum, Peabody Energy, Koch Industries, American Petroleum Institute, Western States Petroleum Association, and McKinsey & Company.

The County’s lawsuit seeks $50 million in actual damages and $1.5 billion in future damages.

In addition, the County seeks an abatement fund, estimated at $50 billion, to study, plan and upgrade the public health care services and infrastructure that will be reasonably necessary to “weatherproof” the County from future extreme heat events and to safeguard the public health. 

In this effort to hold these fossil fuel companies and their misinformation agents accountable, the County is represented by three law firms as their outside counsel: Worthington & Caron, PC, Simon Greenstone Panatier, PC, and Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost. Each firm specializes in large-scale catastrophic harm litigation. 

"This lawsuit is about accountability and fairness, and I believe the people of Multnomah County deserve both. These businesses knew their products were unsafe and harmful, and they lied about it," said Chair Jessica Vega Pederson. "They have profited massively from their lies and left the rest of us to suffer the consequences and pay for the damages. We say enough is enough."

Background on the litigation

Beginning on June 25, 2021, the Plaintiff, Multnomah County, was scorched by the most extreme heat event in its history. Over the course of three consecutive days, County temperatures reached highs of 108°, 112° and 116° Fahrenheit. All three of these high temperatures, up to 40 degrees above the daily average for the region, exceed those of any other day in the County’s recorded history. The extreme heat caused the deaths of 69 people, property damage, and the significant expenditure of taxpayer monies and County resources.

In the aftermath of the superheating event, several of the world’s most experienced and respected climate scientists conducted research to determine the heat dome’s causes. They published their findings in studies that were unanimous in their conclusion: This deadly event was caused by fossil fuel emissions, which polluted the atmosphere. Further, that pollution caused dramatic rises in global temperature, drought and the drying of regional soil. When those pollution-caused conditions combined with a dense high-pressure system that hovered over the Pacific Northwest, they converted the region’s typically mild climate into functionally that of a convection oven. 

The lawsuit alleges that the Defendants committed negligence and fraud, and created a public nuisance, all of which are well-established causes of action under Oregon state tort law. As attorney Jeffrey Simon, a partner at Simon Greenstone Panatier, PC and a law professor of mass tort litigation observed, “There are no new laws or novel theories being asserted here. We contend that the Defendants broke long-standing ones, and we will prove it to a jury.”  

Attorney Roger Worthington, a partner at Worthington & Caron, PC said, “We are confident that, once we show what the fossil fuel companies knew about global warming and when, and what they did to deny, delay and deceive the public, the jury will not let the fossil fuel companies get away with their reckless misconduct.”