Settlement pleases power surge victims

Six customers of Allegheny Power have received settlements on their claims of damage caused by a power surge on Aug. 8, 2009. In agreeing to the somewhat surprising settlement, the utility somewhat less surprisingly admitted no wrongdoing.

Settlement checks were distributed Tuesday by Allan Robert Rexinger of Washington, an attorney who represented the group of residents who claimed surge damage and formed the group ZAP — Zapped by Allegheny Power — to seek compensation. Rexinger is also one of those who claimed damage from the surge.

The settlement checks range in amounts from $70 to $544.50 and totaled $1,988.30. The sums represent 50 percent of the amounts claimed in damage that could be documented by the claimants.

Allegheny had steadfastly denied over the past year that it was responsible for the surge. Allegheny customers in Rappahannock County are now represented by the Rappahannock Electric Company. The REC, along with Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, took over Allegheny’s distribution system in Virginia effective June 1 of this year.

Despite the utility’s resistance, Allegheny ‘s senior attorney Joseph E. Starkey Jr. said in an Aug. 29 letter to Rexinger, “Nonetheless, as a one-time accommodation” Allegheny Power was willing to offer settlements.

Rexinger received $554.50 for his claim for repairs to a dishwasher and hot tub and $490.54 went to Diane and John MacPherson, owners of the Foster Harris House Bed and Breakfast for refrigerator repairs, spoiled food, surge protector and breaker damage and to replace several fluorescent bulbs.

“This settlement results in a good outcome to a bad situation. It is win-win. Allegheny wins because they ultimately acted responsibility when urged to do so. ZAP wins because we held our ground as a matter of principle and the payments validate our claims,” Rexinger and Diane MacPherson said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

Rexinger said he is confident “we would have prevailed in litigation” had it reached that stage.

“The power surge did speak for itself and a court would have recognized the obvious,” he said.

The utility investigated the surge and “found no fault of their own” and had offered a downed line caused by an auto accident, a cow, birds, fallen tree limbs or a storm as possible explanations for the surge, Rexinger said. Any of those incidents would have absolved the utility from responsibility. In his letter offering the settlement, Starkey said Allegheny Power was unable to identify a cause.

A subsequent power surge on Feb. 6 of this year was attributed by Allegheny to a “severe snow event” and no settlements were offered as a result.

The settlements for the August 2009 event led Rexinger to say “I praise Allegheny and attorney Joseph Starkey for their willingness to address our concerns.

“Of course we would have preferred 100 cents on the dollar but 50 cents is better than no cents and it’s a reasonable resolution.”
He also noted that the REC, unlike Allegheny Power, offers its customers surge protection.

“For $4.95 a month the REC will install a main power surge protector on the meter and provide indoor surge protectors. It’s really quite important. Had it been REC to begin with the people would have had that protection.”

Diane MacPherson said “I’m surprised in some way” by the settlement. “I didn’t expect them to offer anything.”

She credits having an attorney on their side.

“I think it was his [Rexinger’s] persistence and knowledge that made all the difference. We wouldn’t have worked so hard. But it was the principle in our case. Somebody had to be held accountable.”

After fighting for so long, getting the money now “feels like a windfall,” she said.

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About James Ivancic 67 Articles
James Ivancic is a reporter for the Fauquier Times in Warrenton, Va. Contact him at jivancic@fauquier.com.