July 31, 2015

Court allows class-action suit against Unitil

A class-action lawsuit against Unitil Corp. over its handling of a crippling ice storm in 2008 has been allowed to proceed by a Worcester Superior Court judge.

The case, filed by 12 residential and business customers of Fitchburg Gas & Electric Co., a division of New Hampshire-based Unitil, centers around alleged unfair business practices and negligence by the Fitchburg Gas & Electric Light during the December 2008 ice storm that left many in the area without power, some for as long as two weeks. The suit was originally filed in January 2009 by Unitil customers who lost power during the ice storm. The suit seeks damages for allegedly "inadequate preparation and response to the storm," according to court documents.

Unitil serves Fitchburg, Lunenburg, Townsend and Ashby.

"The Worcester Superior Court decision is a major victory for customers of FG&E," James L. O'Connor, of Nickless, Phillips & O'Connor, one of the attorneys for the customers, said in a release. "It provides them with recourse to seek damages as a class and sends a message to the company that it must own up to its poor service record."

The next step will be to prepare for a trial in Superior Court, he said.

Unitil media relations manager Alec O'Meara said the company received the ruling, signed by Judge Richard T. Tucker, Wednesday.

"We are still in process of going over the ruling in its entirety and we are reviewing options of how to proceed next," he said, explaining that one avenue the company could pursue is an appeal of the ruling to allow the case to move forward.

O'Meara declined to comment further on the case, but said that since the storm, Unitil has created a new position specifically tasked with emergency response and adopted an incident command system that makes use of all Unitil employees during major weather events.

Unitil serves approximately 28,000 electric customers in Massachusetts, as well as electric and gas customers in New Hampshire and Maine.

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