A state Supreme Court judge has allowed a class action lawsuit from Breezy Point and Belle Harbor residents and businesses against National Grid and LIPA, accusing the utilities of being culpable in two separate fires that destroyed over 100 homes there during Hurricane Sandy, to proceed.
The suit, filed by Ozone Park law firm Sullivan & Galleshaw, alleges that the decision by LIPA and National Grid, which operate the transmission lines, not to “de-energize” the Rockaway Peninsula before the storm created the conditions that led to the fires.
More than 100 homes in Breezy Point and about half a dozen in Belle Harbor burned down during the storm, as did the well-known Harbor Lights Pub on Newport Avenue.
In December 2012, the city fire marshall declared the cause of the fires to be corrosive salt water coming into contact with live electrical lines. Since they sparked at the height of the hurricane, the winds spread the inferno and the flood kept fire crews from reaching the homes for several hours.
The lawsuit states that LIPA and National Grid were required to shut down electrical and gas lines before the storm as the peninsula was under a mandatory evacuation order, Gov. Cuomo had declared a state of emergency and President Obama issued a disaster declaration before the storm.
LIPA and National Grid had argued that they were operating as government agencies when delivering power and gas to the Rockaway Peninsula and thus should be immune. State Supreme Court Judge Bernice Siegal threw out the argument on July 3, allowing the lawsuit to move forward.
“The Court finds that providing electricity to consumers is a proprietary act because electricity has traditionally been supplied by the private sector,” she wrote in her ruling.
Both companies said their actions were “reasonable and appropriate” and that “the claims did not have merit.”
The suit does not name a specific dollar amount in damages, but past published reports said it could be as high as $80 million.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story incorrectly identified the neighborhood where more than 100 homes burned down as Broad Channel.