Utility Company Negligence Can Prove Deadly
By Shane C. Fulton, Burg Simpson Associate
All across the country, victims are struggling to deal with the aftermath of deadly fires and explosions caused by utility companies. On September 13, 2018, faulty work performed by Columbia Gas of Massachusetts contractors resulted in one fatality and damage to 131 structures throughout the Merrimack Valley. On January 29, 2019, Pacific Gas and Electric, the company allegedly responsible for a rash of recent California wildfires, announced plans to file for bankruptcy in the face of $30 billion in damage claims.
While it may be easy to consider these tragedies as isolated events, they are more common than you might think. For instance, from 2015-2018, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) reported an annual average of 32 “serious” gas pipeline incidents involving a fatality or in-patient hospitalization.
To make matters worse, utility companies are increasingly attempting to insulate themselves from liability through agreements with state governments. These agreements, or “tariffs”, are essentially a set of terms and conditions that a utility company seeks to implement in connection with the provision of services to its customers. Tariffs can include a schedule of rates, provide for low-income programs, or set forth the instances in which a bill may be adjusted. However, as more and more victims are discovering, tariffs can carry much more sinister implications.
For instance, in Massachusetts, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld a tariff provision that limited NSTAR Electric’s liability for consequential damages and business losses—even where NSTAR was grossly negligent. From a public safety perspective, such rulings pervert the original concept of a tariff and significantly reduce consequences for bad actors.
Fortunately, law firms such as Burg Simpson have the knowledge and expertise to help those affected by utility company negligence even despite onerous tariff agreements. However, early intervention is critical. Common post-incident practices by the utility industry have the potential to destroy the value of a claim. To preserve the value of a claim, evidence must be preserved, experts must be engaged, and the utility company’s practices must be evaluated through the lens of numerous intertwined state and federal regulations.
If you have suffered personal injuries, lost a home, or own a business affected by a utility company’s negligence, your case begins on day one. Burg Simpson understands the intricate maneuvers necessary to prevail against these powerful corporate entities and will do everything it can to ensure the compensation you deserve. Our attorneys at Burg Simpson can provide a free case evaluation and consultation regarding your legal rights.