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Examining Options for Compensation after the Power Outage

Saturday 12 August 2017 at 01:08 am.

By CATHERINE KOZAK

Even as people are still taking stock of losses related to the recent power outage on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, at least six class-action lawsuits have been filed to collect damages for those who decide to join.

In addition, a patchwork of travel insurance and rental companies’ deposit reimbursement policies may or may not provide compensation for vacationers and the governor’s emergency declaration may or may not matter in collecting it.

What about business or wage and tip losses? Or potential decreases in tourism, the islands’ lifeblood? What about related costs from spoiled food or health issues created by lack of air conditioning?

Dare County plans to hold a community meeting next week on August 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the Fessenden Center to shed light on the confusing range of options available to residents, tourists, property owners and businesses affected by the week-long blackout.

“We’re going to provide all the information that we have to try to help people access the information to do whatever they need to do,” said county manager Bobby Outten, adding that legal advice will not be given. “I think people are concerned and upset that they lost the revenue that they did. Our goal at that meeting is to begin gathering information and answer any questions we can answer.”

PCL Construction, the contractor currently building the new Bonner Bridge, has taken responsibility for accidently cutting power cables on the south side of the bridge project on the early morning of July 27, leaving the islands with no electricity other than spotty coverage from emergency generators. Thousands of tourists had to be evacuated, and the islands were closed to visitors until Aug. 4.

Outten said the county also lost considerable revenue from occupancy and retail taxes, but it will take awhile to calculate the losses. When the numbers are known, he said, the Dare County Board of Commissioners will decide what steps to take to recoup the funds.

Both Hatteras and Ocracoke are bursting at the seams with visitors in late July, considered the height of the lucrative tourism season. When Ocracoke was evacuated, ferries transported 3,783 passengers and 1,485 vehicles off an island that has about 900 year round residents. An estimated 60,000 or so vacationers on Hatteras Island – with a year-round population of about 5,000 - were also ordered to leave.

Hyde County officials told residents at a meeting last week that PCL Construction is willing to work with the county to provide restitution to the Ocracoke community, said Kris Noble, assistant county manager.

Noble said that everyone was encouraged to determine the amount of their losses and submit the numbers to Hyde County by today, Aug. 11. But she said the county will continue to accept the information.

“That was kind of our internal deadline – we’re going to start compiling our information on Monday,” she said in a telephone interview. “It’s definitely not the end of it. Certainly, we haven’t seen the end of the losses.”

After the information is collected, the county, acting as a liaison at no cost to islanders, will sit down with PCL to discuss potential compensation. But there are still a lot of unknowns.

“Everybody feels like the island will be slow to recoup, as far as getting our visitor numbers back,” Noble said.

The advantage of working directly with the contractor to reach an agreement on compensation is that it saves having to pay a share of the amount to an attorney.
That might be the best approach, as long as a person doesn’t have to sign a release that would prevent future compensation for additional losses, said John Hughes, an attorney with Salisbury law firm Wallace & Graham, one of the firms representing plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit.

“They would get an offset for whatever they paid now,” he said. “You should talk to each other and see what offers they’re getting.”

So far, there have been a total of six claims filed, Hughes said. In general, class-action lawsuits can address multiple plaintiffs in different ways: one complaint listing the individuals; a number of individual cases that are consolidated or coordinated to be heard by the same judge; tens of thousands of plaintiffs (say, tourists). People who join a claim will not have to pay a retainer upfront, but instead agree to pay a contingency fee that typically is about 30 percent of the settlement, plus costs.

For someone who has just lost a deposit on a rental house, it might be better to negotiate directly with the property management company or the contractor, he said. But if the claim is more complicated, such as projected businesses losses or damages to property, joining a class-action lawsuit could be the best route to getting compensation.
Considering the thousands of potential claims, Hughes doesn’t find it surprising that there are multiple class actions to choose from already. But he said people should see it as a plus.

“From the point of view for the public, I think it’s all for the better, because it allows competition for the public,” he said. “First of all, there’s no rush. PCL is a huge company. They’re not going away. So don’t let some lawyer or some claims adjuster say there’s a rush.”

Hughes also said people should make sure to call their insurance agents and check their policies about pursuing compensation. Also, a person who joins a class action is not obligated to remain a party. Anyone who has questions, he said, should call the State Bar’s legal hotline.

Depending on the number of claims and whether they’re combined into one or several, the outcome of the lawsuits could range from being settled quickly, or being litigated for years.

“So it’s real fluid right now,” Hughes said.

PCL has set up a website, outerbanks.pcl.com, for residents, vacationers or businesses to submit claims.
The contractor declined to comment on settlement discussions or the lawsuits.

"It is the policy of PCL to not comment on matters of prospective litigation. We respect and defer to the adjudicative process, and will submit our positions when called upon in the appropriate forum,” a statement provided by company spokeswoman Stephanie McCay said.

As far as the claim Hughes’ firm represents, it was filed on July 31 in Dare County by Kill Devil Hills firm Rose Harrison & Gilreath, so far the only one filed in North Carolina.

Two of the initial plaintiffs, Tami Gray and Briggs McEwan, both Hatteras Island business owners, had reached out to the firm because they had been former clients, Peebles Harrison said, acknowledging there might be a perception of ambulance-chasing.

“What I’m wary about is there’s going to be lingering effects from this,” he said, adding that islanders are back to serving a huge numbers of vacationers. “We’re going to leave them alone until after Labor Day. You think about how you’re jamming people up at their busiest time.”

Known lawsuits as of 8/10/17:

  1. Briggs McEwan v. PCL Civil Constructors, Inc., No. 17-CVS- 407, Dare County Superior Court, Complaint filed on July 31, 2017.
  2. Island Vibe Café v. PCL Construction Enterprises, Inc., No. 4:17-cv- 00101-D, E.D.N.C. Complaint filed on July 31, 2017.
  3. Marissa Gross d/b/a Down Creek Galleries v. PCL Construction Services, Inc., No. 4:17-cv- 00102-BO, E.D.N.C. Complaint filed on July 31, 2017.
  4. Miss Ocracoke, Inc. v. PCL Construction Enterprises, Inc., No. 4:17-cv- 00103-D, E.D.N.C. Complaint filed on August 2, 2017.
  5. Avon Cottages Ltd. v. PCL Construction Services, Inc., No. 4:17-cv- 00104-D, E.D.N.C. Complaint filed on August 4, 2017.
  6. Breveleri v. PCL Construction Enterprises, Inc., No. 4:17-cv- 00107-FL, E.D.N.C., Complaint filed on August 8, 2017.

six comments

Denny in Dayton

Very interesting. PCL is the 6th largest construction firm in the country. So the money should be there. The bonding on this job should be in the 270 Million range.

Another company to possibly be brought in is HDR Engineering. They are the ones tasked with laying out all the items in the way, include the electric service. This would include the electric feed, and GPS coordinates are used extensively on a job like this.

I agree that if PCL makes good offers that’s the best way to go. A lawsuit would be years, at least 3 or more to settle. And the suits would probably make more than the claimants.

The only down dig I would do on PCL is they recently got fired from a big job in Orlando at the airport because the port authority said they “wanted to shift liability”. PCL said it was a “cost saving move”. That sounds like a reduction in bonding. Let’s hope NCDOT didn’t allow them to lower their bonding on this job.

Denny in Dayton - 12-08-’17 04:05
Bud

Compensation for what? It was a wonderful week here while the evacuation order was in effect. Power was only out for the first 36 hours. Much work was not interrupted, it was business as usual for us in the construction trades. As for the restaurant workers, guess they will have to cut short their three month vacation in Costa Rica by a week. These folks do not work year round and are complaining about a week. Some of us work year-round and the evacuation was a blessing.

Bud - 13-08-’17 00:49
Jack

Someone ought to add Southern Environmental Law to the list. If they hadn’t screwed with the plans all those years maybe the files wouldn’t have been so thick they missed the layout of the cable run..

Jack - 13-08-’17 16:17
JimH

The class lawsuits are not the way to go if you want 100% (or even close) to what your losses are or if you would like to settle this year. Class action suits can stretch out over years. I’d attempt to work with the county to get in on the group settlement from PCL and accept what they provide or at least just to have a baseline. Anyone thinking they are going to get rich off this is mistaken, but hopefully you can get close to your losses. The whole situation is unfortunate, but at least PCL is offering to resolve the issue. They could have just as easily dug their heels in for a long drawn out defense saying it was not their fault.

JimH - 14-08-’17 00:41
diver531

Some decent news …saw a letter being distributed by Resort Realty that their insurer RED SKY is covering the trip insurance for the week lost . This is the first that i’m hearing of … congrats to Red Sky for stepping up .

diver531 - 23-08-’17 18:08
Salvo Jimmy

I received a check today for my food loss in my fridge/freezer, which was the only loss I suffered.

As an aside, I knew the stuff was no good even though the fridge/ freezer was going and everything appeared good when I returned. I always leave several ice cubes in a plastic cup in the freezer. They had melted and re-frozen in the shape of the cup.

Salvo Jimmy - 19-09-’17 23:25




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