Lawyers in gas disaster suit to host 1:1 sessions to help fill out settlement claims
by Bill Kirk, Eagle Tribune
Attorneys who represent victims of the Columbia Gas disaster in a controversial class-action lawsuit will be holding a series of "town halls" over the next few weeks to help people file claims in the suit against the utility company.
“We are planning to hold three town hall meetings to help people file claims and answer any questions," said Elizabeth Graham, one of the attorneys in the case. "Anyone who was impacted by this event is encouraged to file a claim — even if they already filed a claim through insurance or through the Columbia Gas-managed process."
She added, “This is real money and it’s easy to file a claim. An average family of four could get a lump sum payment of $1,050 to $9,500 based on the severity of disruption caused by the incident.”
The $143 million settlement will pay claims for major losses, as well as any minor inconveniences experienced. This includes evacuations, evacuation expenses, loss of gas service, heating expenses, lost wages, lost business income, property damage and emotional distress.
The deadline to file claims related to the 2018 Columbia Gas over-pressurization event has been extended by court order to Jan. 31. Originally the deadline was Jan. 9, but residents and business owners claimed they needed more time because of the holidays.
All town halls will be held on Saturdays in January from 12 noon to 5 p.m. on the following days: Jan. 4, Jan. 18 and Jan. 25. Both English- and Spanish-speaking agents will be on hand to assist and answer questions regarding the filing process.
The meetings will be held the Greater Lawrence Technical High School, 57 River Road, Andover.
All residents who attend the sessions should bring proof of residency in the areas affected by the Sept. 13, 2018 blasts and fires. Proof includes utility bills, pay stubs, cell phone bills or lease agreements, for example.
For more information, call 833-927-0819 or visit ColumbiaGasExplosionSettlement.com.
Not everyone is on board with the class-action suit.
Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera earlier this week released a letter saying he believes the settlement should be nullified.
"I am of the opinion that the settlement terms are unfair and unreasonable," he said in a letter dated Nov. 9, 2019. The deadline to file objections to the class-action suit with the settlement administrator was Dec. 10, 2019.
The reason Rivera objects to the suit, he said, is that the attorneys' fees proposed as part of the settlement are too high, the time frame to apply for compensation under the settlement is too short, and the claims process is too complicated.
He isn't the only one objecting to the proposed settlement.
A group of residents who formerly lived in a multi-family home at 6-12 Springfield St. filed an objection to the settlement, saying they suffered mental and physical distress when their apartment building burned in the disaster.
The Sept. 13, 2018 gas disaster, caused by over-pressurization of gas lines, affected residents and businesses in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence. Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, was killed, dozens of people were injured and damages are estimated at $1 billion.
Three firefighters and 19 civilians were hurt, 50,000 people were forced to evacuate, and the severity of the damage largely depended on the age of appliances people had. Five homes were destroyed and 131 structures damaged, according to findings by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The settlement could benefit roughly 175,000 residents and businesses and allows for six categories of lump-sum payouts, ranging from $50 for a “nominal” disruption to as much as $15,000 for a “major” disruption.