Oregon Court Orders Teen to Repay $37M for Starting Wildfire

In September 2017, a 15-year-old threw two fireworks into Oregon’s Eagle Creek Canyon, sparking a huge wildfire that destroyed several homes and impacted tourism in the area. The teenager pleaded guilty to reckless burning of public and private property, and was sentenced to community service and probation. The fire’s victims, which included homeowners and the U.S. Forest Service, also sought restitution to cover the costs of restoring the damaged homes and land, as well as the significant firefighting costs. In total, the claimants pursued restitution totaling $36,618,330.24.

At a court hearing, the teenager’s lawyer urged the judge to reduce the restitution award to a “reasonable and rational” penalty—that it was “absurd” to award multi-million dollar restitution against a minor. Although the judge agreed that the claimants were seeking “an extraordinary amount” of restitution, he nevertheless awarded the full, nearly $37M figure. Oregon law allows garnishment of the teenager’s bank accounts or paychecks, though the judge’s order notes that payments may be halted after 10 years if certain conditions are met.

For subrogating insurers, this case offers a reminder of both the challenges and possibilities for recovery in losses caused by the intentional acts of minors. Such cases may turn on whether the given jurisdiction has statutory or case law regarding parental liability for acts of minor children (as Oregon does), but careful planning and strategy may still lead to a successful subrogation action.

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