Those who lost power after Hurricane Irma may soon be part of a class-action lawsuit against Florida Power & Light.
MSP Recovery Law of Kendall and Dorta Law of Coral Gables filed the suit Monday in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. More than four million customers lost power after Hurricane Irma blasted Florida, said MSP lawyer John H. Ruiz.
In the suit, the two firms argue that FPL collected storm charge fees, usually $2 to $10 a month, to allow for trees near power lines to be pruned and for moving some power lines underground. But FPL didn’t do what it promised, Ruiz said.
“Multiply that by millions. Multiply that by months in the calendar year and that adds up,” he said. “Instead of using that money and being prepared, they waited until the storm hit.”
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He said that if the court certifies the case, FPL customers who lost power can expect to receive a notice of the lawsuit in the next year. Those who want to opt out can at that point.
Richard Beltran, a spokesman for FPL, initially said the utility had no comment on the lawsuit. Later in the evening, FPL sent a comment that included the following:
“Frivolous lawsuits are filed every day in America, however, what is concerning in this case is that the suit was filed by a law firm linked to a Coral Gables City Commissioner. We have not yet received a copy of the lawsuit, but we can only assume it’s another attempt to distract from the City’s failure to properly locate and manage its trees, despite having a website that shows the exact location of each of its 38,000 trees.
“Our crews have been removing a shocking number of fallen and damaged trees that were apparently planted by the City in dangerous locations far too close to power lines. Other trees appear to have been planted too closely together, preventing their root systems from being able to grow properly and hold the ground securely in high winds. With wind gusts of more than 90 mph recorded in nearby weather stations, it’s no wonder why so many trees came crashing down all over the City.”
The link in the FPL statement leads to the the Linkedin page of a lawyer who doubles as a city commissioner and indicates he is associated with the law firm.
The statement appears to make reference to a prior threat by Coral Gables to file a lawsuit against FPL over the amount of damage to the grid from the storm and the pace of power restoration. The village of Pinecrest has also threatened FPL with litigation.
Ruiz said the two firms that sued Monday expect the damages to be reimbursed to total $2 to $3 billion.
Sandra Speier, a Pilates instructor and personal trainer who lives in Coconut Grove, was at the news conference and said she joined the suit after being without power nine days and counting.
“It was brutal,” she said. “It’s still brutal.”
Attorney Gonzalo Dorta also said the lawyers will be looking to see who got power first. He hopes the widespread outages and the suit will cause the county to look for other providers when its contract with FPL is up in two years.
“It’s up to our leaders to revisit that franchise agreement,” he said.