'08 ice storm outage lawsuit argued 5 yrs. later.

Byline: John J. Monahan

BOSTON -- The power outage from the December 2008 ice storm lasted up to two weeks in parts of northern Worcester County, but a lawsuit on behalf of Fitchburg Gas & Electric customers who lost power was still being argued in the state's highest court Tuesday, more than five years later.

Lawyers representing 12 affected residents and businesses that brought the suit asked the Supreme Judicial Court to overturn a Worcester Superior Court ruling that 28,500 customers who lost power in Fitchburg, Lunenburg, Ashby and Townsend cannot be considered a class of people harmed by the outage and eligible for damages.

Lawyer Barry M. Altman argued that the customers paid for a level of preparedness from the utility that they did not receive. He noted that the Department of Public Utilities, which investigated the response to the outage, termed it "the worst ever seen.''

He said the outage impacts were compounded by bad information from the utility about how long it would take for power to be restored. The misinformation made it impossible for residents and businesses to anticipate the extended power outages and to make plans about whether to seek alternative housing and to save food and prevent pipes from bursting.

Gavin Rooney, lawyer for Unitil Fitchburg Gas & Electric Light Co., argued against certification of a class of people harmed by the outage, saying some lost power for only several hours or days, while others lost power for two weeks. Eighty percent of the customers had power back in one week, he said.

Mr. Rooney told the court, "You clearly have substantial damages here caused by Mother Nature.''

Mr. Altman countered, "Electric companies have a responsibility to restore it in a timely and efficient manner.''

The state Department of Public Utilities found "systematic deficiencies'' in the company's preparations and response to the storm.

Mr. Altman said the idea behind the class certification is to allow the thousands of people and...

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