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Florida resident files class action suit against power company following Hurricane Irma-related outages

[JURIST] A Florida man filed a civil lawsuit [complaint, PDF] against Florida Power & Light Company [official website] on Monday, claiming the utility company failed to make preparations that could have prevented some of the mass power outages resulting from Hurricane Irma [Miami Herald backgrounder] last week.

The lawsuit further claims that FPL had recently increased rates for the express purpose of making those preparations, but that money was allegedly used for lobbying efforts.

Plaintiff Octavio Fernandez, through his attorneys at the firms of MSP Recovery and Dorta Law [firm websites], claims to be among the nearly 4.4 million FPL customers who experienced power outages when Irma made landfall, beginning last Sunday. In his complaint, Fernandez requests an order certifying a proposed class designation so other FPL customers may join the suit. As of the night before the filing, more than 300,000 customer were still without power.

Much of the suit's allegations stem from a $400 million rate hike, which was approved [press release] by the Florida Public Service Commission [government website] in November and was to be followed by another $411 million in increases over the next three years. FPL had originally requested a $1.3 billion increase. According to a statement released [text] by FPL in anticipation of the rate hike, the additional revenue would provide, in part, for increased grid strengthening and storm preparation. "By strengthening power lines and related infrastructure," the statement read, "hardening initiatives [like those proposed in the plan] are designed to reduce outages and enable FPL to restore power for customers and help local communities recover more quickly when severe weather strikes."

Fernandez's complaint characterizes that statement as an unkept promise by the FPL.

FPL's representation about the benefits of a rate increase and storm charge to strengthen its power lines and related infrastructures were false when made and continue to be false. The storm charges collected have not been used as represented by FPL. Customers like Plaintiff and the Class have not received the benefit of the bargain despite having paid storm charges. Rather than strengthening its grid, FPL has spent millions of dollars influencing the state legislative process. Notably, FPL has exerted its monopoly power over some of the state's most influential legislators through political contributions. These legislators in turn ensure that legislature written by FPL is swiftly enacted into law providing the monopolistic enterprise unprecedented protection and immunity for the large campaign contributions it spreads among those legislators.
A representative from FPL called the lawsuit "frivolous" [Palm Beach Post report] and alleged that one of the firms involved in the litigation was linked to a Coral Gables City Commissioner who had previously been on the losing side of a lawsuit with FPL involving the negligent placement of trees relative to FPL power lines.

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