CT plaintiffs seek $1.5B from Eversource in Isaias restoration lawsuit

Utility trucks and crews began dealing with a rat's next of wires down near the intersection of Route 33 and 35 in Ridgefield.

Utility trucks and crews began dealing with a rat's next of wires down near the intersection of Route 33 and 35 in Ridgefield.

Contributed photo, Hearst Connecticut Media

Aiming to make Eversource Energy pay for spoiled food and other costs of extended outages incurred after Tropical Storm Isaias blew through the state, a trio of customers have filed suit in Connecticut Superior Court.

West Hartford acupuncturist Stan Baker, Krysztof Kosieradzki of Farmington and Michael O’Neill of New Britain are seeking class-action status that would allow others to join the lawsuit, as first reported Thursday by the Hartford Courant. Arguing Eversource failed to take “appropriate and effective measures” to prevent blackouts — despite weather forecasts showing Isaias on track for Connecticut — plaintiffs are seeking $1.5 billion.

A judge would have to certify the lawsuit for class-action status before any final damages would be determined as part of the civil litigation process.

Eversource generated profits last year of $411 million from its historic Connecticut Light & Power operations.

“We recently learned of the lawsuit and are reviewing it, but we believe it has no merit,” stated Eversource spokesperson Mitch Gross, in response to a Hearst Connecticut Media query on Thursday. “We recognize the tremendous impact the storm and resulting outages have had on customers across the state. We remain focused on getting the power back for those customers still without power. This has been an incredible team effort by our employees and the thousands of outside crews who have worked tirelessly on this massive restoration.”

The Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Commission has scheduled an Aug. 24 hearing for a “contested” proceeding to determine any lapses by Eversource and United Illuminating, which is owned by Orange-based Avangrid. PURA has the authority to impose civil penalties, and to reduce the amounts Eversource can charge customers on future bills to pay for storm restoration.

Attorney General William Tong late Wednesday called for Eversource to reimburse customers for the cost of lost food and medicine — a move Consolidated Edison is doing in New York. Tong said he had not calculated the estimated value of the reimbursement.

Tong told Hearst Connecticut that he has yet to determine whether to file a lawsuit against Eversource or United Illuminating, with plans to testify at the PURA hearing in 11 days.

“We’re looking at every available legal option, but ... the law says that these disputes are adjudicated in front of PURA,” Tong said Thursday. “The distribution companies are heavily regulated ... by a whole legal structure that we have to work within, and the head of that structure is PURA.”

More broadly, Tong and other elected officials — including Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a former longtime state attorney general — have called on Eversource to agree to pay for the entire cost of the cleanup. Blumenthal also called for rebates to customers that lost power.

Con Ed agreed to pay up to $540 for spoiled food for households that lost power for at least 48 consecutive hours, and up to $10,700 for businesses, according to media reports including WPIX-TV Channel 11.

Eversource issued a statement Wednesday night, saying: “We understand how difficult it is for our customers to be without power. As this was an act of nature we don’t provide reimbursement, but we encourage our customers to reach out to their insurance carrier to see if it’s in their homeowners or renters policy.”

Tong said he intends to argue before regulators at upcoming hearings on the storm, and at future electric rate hearings, that Eversource shareholders, not ratepayers, should shoulder the restoration cost — which has not been estimated publicly.

“It’s probably more than the $40 million they paid their executives last year,” Tong said, referring to the publicly listed pay of the top five executives including nearly $20 million for CEO Jim Judge if factoring in the future value of pension benefits he is slated to receive.

Dan Haar contributed to this report.

Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman