By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK, Nov 13 (Reuters) - The Long Island Power Authority
(LIPA) was hit with a class action lawsuit Tuesday accusing the
company of negligently handling power outages that left
thousands of Long Island residents in the dark in the wake of
The class action, filed in Long Island's Nassau County by
lawyer Kenneth Mollins, claims that LIPA failed to replace an
"outdated, obsolete" management system for dealing with
large-scale power outages. Flaws in the system were documented
last year, following Hurricane Irene, in a June report issued by
the New York State Public Service Commission, which regulates
utilities, the complaint says.
U.K.-based National Grid, which contracts with LIPA to run
the day-to-day operations of its electric utility business, also
is a defendant. The lawsuit, brought on behalf of Long Island
residents, seeks unspecified damages from both companies for
claims including gross negligence, fraud and breach of contract.
LIPA declined to comment and National Grid did not return a
request for comment.
The lawsuit follows on the heels of a class action brought
on behalf of residents in Tarrytown, New York, against Con
Edison Inc. accusing the company of providing misleading
information about power outages and restoration of services
More than 1 million of LIPA's 1.1 million customers lost
power due to Sandy. A nor'easter storm last week knocked out
123,000 more customers, thousands of whom had already regained
power after Sandy. In total, Sandy knocked out power to about
8.5 million customers in 21 states after hitting New Jersey on
By midday Tuesday, LIPA said it had restored power to 1.1
million customers, although 10,136 outages remained in Long
Island's Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo criticized the utility
companies for the slow pace of power restoration. He said LIPA
had "failed" consumers and he threatened to replace the
company's management. On Tuesday, Cuomo announced the creation
of a special committee to probe utilities' storm preparedness
Following Hurricane Irene, LIPA was the hardest-hit New York
utility, with 523,000 customer outages, according to the
commission's report. The report suggested that LIPA and National
Grid design a more proactive communication system to keep
customers updated on power-restoration efforts before, during
and after major emergency events. It further recommended that
they take steps to improve their performance during an
emergency, including a better strategy for finding and fixing
downed wires and clearing debris.
"Had LIPA even done some of the work suggested by the Public
Service Commission, the duration of the outages would have been
less, and the damage sustained by homeowners significantly
less," Mollins said in an interview.
One of two named plaintiffs in the lawsuit waited 14 days
before his power was restored, and the other is still without
power, Mollins said.
In addition to the lawsuit, Mollins is demanding that state
authorities investigate the steps LIPA and National Grid took to
implement recommendations in the post-Irene report.
Establishing liability against LIPA and National Grid in the
lawsuit could be an uphill battle, according to Scott Kreppein,
a LIPA customer and lawyer who has represented customers in
similar suits against utilities after blackouts.
Ratepayers must prove the companies were grossly negligent,
he said, and show they were not merely inefficient but acted in
an outrageous or unreasonable way.
Kreppein said the post-Irene report may be used to show that
LIPA had advance warning of some issues that plagued it after
"From what I've seen, there seem to be significant
problems," said Kreppein. "There's definitely room for
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel)
Follow us on Twitter @ReutersLegal | Like us on Facebook