Tag Archives: LIPA lawsuit

Lawsuit filed alleging negligence by power companies during Breezy Point blaze

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Sullivan & Galleshaw, LLP

The Breezy Point blaze during Sandy was “so massive, it looked like a forest fire,” said Billy Heeran, a Rockaway resident.

Heeran owned what has been called an “iconic restaurant” in the neighborhood, the Harbor Light Pub. The family business had stayed afloat for over 30 years, but it was reduced to ashes the night of the storm.

Dylan Smith, who died surfing less than two months after rescuing people during Sandy, worked for Heeran for 10 years and called him that night to tell him the pub was on fire.

“He said, ‘Billy, there’s fire blowing out of the windows,’” Heeran said. “I knew it was bad. There was no fire department getting in there.”

Following the FDNY confirmation that the fire was electrical, people who lost homes and businesses decided to fight back. A notice of claim was filed in January, as previously reported by The Courier, that residents were seeking damage compensation from power companies LIPA and National Grid.

The negligence claim against the power companies was officially filed Tuesday, July 3. It alleges that the two had a duty to provide for and ensure the safety of the property of those who are supplied its electricity, such as Breezy Point, and was negligent in failing to de-energize the area prior to the storm.

In the event of extreme flooding, power companies are advised to shut off electricity in vulnerable areas in order to prevent incidents such as electrical fires. The claim states that prior to Sandy, both LIPA and National Grid were aware of the necessity to do as such.

Law firms Sullivan & Galleshaw, LLP and Godosky & Gentile, P.C. are representing 120 people all seeking a different amount of compensation based on damages.

“It’s a tremendous burden on these folks,” said attorney Keith Sullivan, born and raised in the Rockaways. “They don’t have the money to rebuild.”

Additionally, he said, the fire victims will have to rebuild according to new building codes and FEMA requirements.

LIPA issued a statement in response to the lawsuit, saying the “effort to place fault for this tragedy with the utility is misplaced,” but the company is “sensitive to those families who suffered tragic losses from Sandy.”
Sullivan countered the statement, saying it is “completely ridiculous.”

“That implies these people are making this up,” he said. “There’s nothing faint about their losses.”

A National Grid spokesperson said the group has not yet received the lawsuit, but “National Grid’s actions during Sandy were reasonable and appropriate” and they “don’t believe that these claims have merit.”
Heeran, also a local firefighter, said once he received the fire marshal’s report, he thought, “There’s negligence here.”

“If the power was shut down, the fire would have never happened. We would have been flooded, but would have been back up in business within 10 days,” he said.



After losing 40 years of memories in Breezy Point fire, homeowner fights for justice

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman

The cause of Sandy’s Breezy Point fire was electric, the FDNY announced in December.

One month later, area resident Kieran Burke has initiated a lawsuit against the town’s power company, LIPA, and rallied his neighbors to fight for justice.

“[LIPA’s] negligence destroyed my home and incinerated 40 years worth of memories,” said Burke. “That was my childhood home, I raised my family there.”

When Burke got word that the blaze was electric, and then further received word that LIPA could have prematurely shut off the area’s electricity before Sandy hit, he approached longtime neighborhood friend and attorney, Keith Sullivan, of the law firm Sullivan and Galleshaw.

The firm was the first to file, followed by Sullivan, Papain, Block, McGrath and Cannavo (SPBMC). Together, the two represent roughly a combined 90 residents. Each claimant is seeking a different amount, with the highest claim being $1.5 million.

“From my perspective, this is a tragedy, and it was so avoidable,” said Sullivan. “We have a community that was hit hard by Mother Nature, and then kicked when it was down by LIPA’s incompetence.”

When the flames started that night, Burke dashed from a nearby home to his own, where he frantically searched for important items, including his son’s birth certificate. The fire spread, and he had to leave his home immediately.

“Their negligence nearly killed me,” he said.

The six-alarm blaze that incinerated over 100 homes could have been avoided if LIPA had shut off the area’s electricity before floodwaters came through, according to the claim filed with SPBMC.

The day before Sandy hit, the storm was predicted to have “destruction potential,” the legal claim stated. In such a case, de-energizing, or suspending electricity to an area, is recommended in order to protect the public from fire and electrical hazards posed by floodwaters.

According to the claim, LIPA had knowledge that Breezy Point was a flood-prone zone before Sandy hit, but disregarded this notion.

“De-energizing Breezy Point and the Rockaway Peninsula during Sandy would have afforded [these families] and their neighbors protection from fire,” said the claim.

LIPA, however, did take precautionary measures and de-energized Fire Island before the storm struck, and also did so one year prior, before Hurricane Irene. One official, in the claim, described these acts as “a measure to avoid fires and other risks that would require a personnel response not possible during the storm,” measures that Breezy Point was not afforded.

A LIPA spokesperson said that the organization had reviewed the claims, and has no comment at this time.
“This is a cut and dry situation,” said Burke. “LIPA destroyed people’s lives.”