Gas outage suits amended to reflect report
The class actions initially filed in January now target specfic failures by utilities in the January freeze-out on Aquidneck Island.
NEWPORT — Amended class action suits were filed this week in Superior Court that claim more than 7,455 residents and businesses in Newport and Middletown were left without heat and hot water for up to week beginning Jan. 21 this year due to the negligence of National Grid and Enbridge Inc. and their affiliates.
In one of the lawsuits, attorney Brian Cunha names nine individuals, all residents of Newport, as plaintiffs and representative of the class. In the second lawsuit he names three businesses as plaintiffs and representatives of that class.
“Many of the town of Middletown and City of Newport’s residents were forced to relocate, incur costs and otherwise suffer in the midst of a New England winter without heating and cooking gas,” the individuals’ complaint says. “Individuals lost daily revenue, suffered spoilage and other losses and incurred in some instances, damages from bursting water pipes, increased electric bills and other collateral effects.”
The lawsuit alleges the defendants’ “failure to analyze, invest, and maintain the gas lines and infrastructure caused the Newport Gas Crisis.” The defendants have “strict liability” for all damages due to their “negligence,” the lawsuits claim.
Cunha filed initial lawsuits against the defendants in late January, but filed the amended lawsuits on Thursday to incorporate the findings of a report issued Oct. 30 by the state Division of Public Utilities and Carriers that determined the outage was caused by a system failure at the National Grid-owned Liquid Natural Gas facility in Providence on Jan. 21, a valve failure in Weymouth, Massachusetts, on the main Algonquin gas line on the same day, the 2010 removal of LNG facilities on Aquidneck Island, and near record low temperatures causing record demand on the system on that day.
Cunha says in the complaints that he also incorporated a report released on Aug. 13 by the federal Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, as well as information provided to him independently by a “whistleblower.” Each lawsuit is about 24 pages long.
Cunha is demanding a trial by jury. If he can convince a judge and the jury that actions by gas-transmission line owner Enbridge, Inc., and gas supplier National Grid may have negligently caused the more than 7,400 customers to suffer damages, all those customers will be asked if they want to join these class-action lawsuits he has filed against the companies.
The nine named individuals, all residents of Newport, include Gail Johnson, Stuart Hebb, Robert Hyde, Sandy Tarr, Victoria Mele, Bekki Schenker, Patrick Kennedy, Mick Harvey and Shawn McKenna.
The three named Newport businesses include BHK, LLC, of 536 Thames St.; The Pale LLC, which does business as Buskers Pub, 178 Thames St.; and Bodhi Spa, LLC, at 654 Thames St. Class-action lawsuits take place because the courts do not want to handle hundreds of separate lawsuits with all essentially the same claims, Cunha said. If the judge determines the criteria for a class-action lawsuit have been met, he would order the two companies to send out letters to all their customers in the affected area, asking them if they would like to join the lawsuit, Cunha said. If there is an award of damages, all members of the class lawsuit receive a share of the awarded money.
“If there is a settlement, all will participate,” Cunha said. “But damages may be different for different plaintiffs if the judge bifurcates the damage.”
When Cunha initially filed the lawsuits, National Grid spokesman Ted Kresse said, “As a standard practice, we do not comment on pending litigation.”
Marylee Hanley, spokeswoman for Enbridge and its subsidiary, Algonquin Gas Transmission, said at the time in an email, “It is Algonquin Gas Transmission’s policy not to comment on matters of pending litigation.”
Cunha, who lives in the Beacon Rock estate off Harrison Avenue in Newport and practices in Fall River, Massachusetts, has experience in class-action lawsuits. He is one of the lawyers who filed a class-action lawsuit against Columbia Gas of Massachusetts in September 2018, claiming the company’s negligence led to a series of gas explosions that forced residents of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover out of more than 8,600 homes, leaving them without shelter for days.