Class-action lawsuits filed over Aquidneck Island gas outage

National Grid and a big oil company out of Canada may soon have some explaining to do in court, as residents and businesses filed class-action lawsuits.

The suits claim that National Grid and Enbridge, a multinational energy company from Canada that transmits natural gas throughout the country, could have prevented the crisis from happening if it wasn’t for negligence.

Three businesses and seven residents are acting as the class representatives in the two separate suits in the cases that were filed in Rhode Island Superior Court on Monday.

They want National Grid and Enbridge to pay for compensatory damages they endured during the outage.

Brian Cunha is heading the cases, and since the lawsuits were filed, he said he’s had dozens of other inquiries from other residents and businesses.

“[The companies] have an obligation to make sure their pipelines and their valves, and so forth, are controlling the flow of gas and maintained and operated properly,” he said. “This is a case where there’s negligence involved, and the people affected should be compensated.”

He said besides the property damage and lost income, some people have truly suffered.

“At least one person had frostbite,” Cunha said. “This poor woman has diabetes, now she had frostbite in her toes and she may lose her toes”

The natural gas crisis has been costly for some small businesses like the Bodhi Spa, owned by sisters Cedar Hwang and Harmony Oschefski.

Their business had to completely close down, and is now only partially open, offering only massages and facials.

The staple of their spa called ‘Water Journey’ had to be put on hold as several pools had to be drained and replaced.

“We did have to shut down completely and we have been pretty booked,” Hwang said. “I don’t have an exact figure [of cost] but it’s in the tens of thousands.”

Even with plans in place from the state and National Grid to help small businesses recover, Hwang and Oschefski are afraid it won’t be enough.

“We’re just looking for a bit of help at this time because it is such a big number for us. We don’t feel confident going in on it alone,” Oschefski said. “It’s been debilitating for us.”

Cunha said the case could be moved to federal court, as Enbridge has its US headquarters based in Houston.

If a judge lets it go forward, more people will be able to join in on the case. Cunha said it is the responsibility of National Grid and Enbridge to let customers know how they can join the suit.

ABC 6 reached out to both companies for comment.

Enbridge said it does not comment on matters of pending litigation.

National Grid released the following statement:

“Our main focus remains on the restoration of those customers impacted by the gas supply interruption on Aquidneck Island and helping them move forward.  As a standard practice, we do not comment on pending litigation.”