Attorney Brian Cunha has filed two class action lawsuits against National Grid and Endbridge as a result of the gas outage that affected Newport. Cunha filed the action in Newport Superior Court on Tuesday on behalf of eight Newport residents and three Newport businesses.
The lawsuits claim that “the plaintiffs suffered a loss of their home and business, as a result of which the Plaintiffs incurred medical expenses, incurred great mental anguish and suffering and suffered an impairment in their enjoyment of life, which damages are continuing in nature.”
The lawsuit seeks compensatory lost income, property damages, other damages the court see fit plus interest and costs.
I understand that there has been some skepticism about the filing of the class action case against National Grid and Enbridge. However, maybe a better understanding of what a class action is all about will relieve some of the anxieties about this case. Certainly, we all recognize in the short term the efforts of Governor Raimondo, the Chamber of Commerce and National Grid to help the businesses and citizens of Newport with the return of speedy natural gas service and help with small business loans and lost wages. However, these loans must be repaid. Who will repay these loans? The persons that were harmed? Or the party that is responsible?
In this case, the loss of gas and heating for one week was not caused by mother nature but primarily by the failure of Enbridge in their North Weymouth, Massachusetts station to properly maintain the valves that control the flow of natural gas to Aquidneck Island. Here, as early as January 2017, Enbridge was aware that there was a problem with their gas controlled valves in Weymouth. At that time, there was an incident in the North Weymouth metering station in which a valve froze resulting in the release of natural gas. Last year, in Providence, an Enbridge employee was responsible for the uncoupling of a gas line resulting in the shutdown of Route 195 for a day resulting in horrific traffic jams. As such, the primary fault may well lie with Enbridge, however because National Grid was the distributor of the gas, it was necessary to add them as a party to the case.
The entire purpose for class action cases is to allow persons that are harmed to bring a claim without having to incur additional costs for legal fees and other expenses. Many consumers may think they are adequately protected from dangerous products by benevolent corporations that will go out of their way to prevent injury to their customers. Or they may think they are adequately protected by government regulations designed to keep unsafe products off the market.
If only those things were guaranteed enough to guarantee safety. Fortunately, consumers have another line of defense. The civil justice system.
Our civil courts do more than compensate injured consumers and hold corporations accountable by their harm caused by their actions. The courts also force corporations to address dangerous situations and make changes that create safe environment, even when government regulations and corporate good will have been unwilling to do so.
The list of products and services to the benefit of consumer safety includes automobiles, prescription drugs, home appliances, toys, sports equipment, construction tools, medical devices, air craft, boats and much more.
In many of these cases, it took a class action civil law suit along with litigation to bring about requirements for improved safety. This case is no different.
It is unfair that business owners and consumers who have suffered damages including dozens of broken and frozen water pipes, loss of business income, loss of wages, personal injury, medical expenses and even the evacuation of, a nursing home to bare the cost, when the utility company is responsible for these losses? I have also hear that as a result of this lawsuit the utility bills will increase. However, rate increases are controlled by the Rhode Island Public Utility Commission and the Public Utility Commission will not allow rate increases particularly if the utility did something that was wrong. Furthermore, National Grid’s response that it would not make adjustments for the electric bills of the residents that had to use electric heaters would not be adjusted. This is not fair to the consumers
I fully understand the criticism about the language “emotional distress and mental anguish” used in the lawsuit. This language is uniformly used as boilerplate language in cases such as this and clearly does not refer to all of the citizens affected.
Finally, in a class action you do not have to join, it is up to the individual person to join or not. However, in my mind, it is unfair to deprive businesses and individuals with real injuries and harm to be deprived of the opportunity to be reimburses by the party responsible. If you were not affected, no problem.