Attorneys for Louisiana ratepayers claiming Entergy companies failed to maintain its distribution and transmissions systems as required by law and despite ratepayer increases to harden the system during severe storms have documented Tuesday that the company has “chopped up” some of the evidence of its failed infrastructure.
In particular, as part of the investigation, the attorneys and their experts went to the site of the large tower failure near the Avondale Shipyard, with drones, only to find that the large tower is no longer there.
The site of the large tower which delivered the main power lines to the metro New Orleans area was also physically examined by Attorney Juan LaFonta and others.
"It's interesting that while the residents of New Orleans can't get their garbage or debris picked up, Entergy can trash an entire tower," said Attorney Andrew Jacoby. “The citizens of Louisiana and the City Council needs to know where the tower is now.”
“It is clear that Entergy is doing what all large corporate actors do when charged with gross negligence,” said Attorney Stuart Smith. “They threaten, they hide, they play a complicated shell game to protect their profits and avoid being held accountable.”
Ironically, the New Orleans City Council, Entergy New Orleans chief regulator, is held a hearing today on Entergy’s proposals to merge its operations in order to gain a more favorable regulator than the City.
“Their actions are reprehensible. They are conspiring to limit their liability because they understand their exposure in failing to address the deficiencies in their infrastructure,” said Mr. Smith, referring to a 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, a 2007 “Hardening Study", and a 2016 “Resilience Plan”. “The law is very clear as to the minimum standards required of companies such as Entergy. These minimum standards were violated.”
Mr. LaFonta said the phones have been ringing off the hook since the filing of the class action lawsuit against Entergy for citizens and residents of Louisiana injured by the company’s failure to transmit power to its customers despite multiple studies and reports calling for the power company to strengthen its aging infrastructure in light of storms, climate change and despite ratepayer increases for such actions.
Plaintiffs include individuals like Lexie Keys of Marrero whose home was supposed to be a priority ‘reconnect’ after a power failure due to dialysis equipment required to maintain the life of her mother, whom she cares for. Instead, Ms. Keys had to evacuate to Texas and find alternative housing, which the combined salaries of all in her household cannot sustain. Another plaintiff, according to Mr. LaFonta, died from heat exposure when the power failed at the nursing home shelter to which the person was evacuated.
“We are going to fight for the interests of Louisiana’s people,” said Mr. LaFonta. “We are standing up for Louisiana residents and businesses who have been injured as a result of Entergy’s negligence and failure to transmit energy to its customers. The scope of the lawsuit is meant to protect all citizens of Louisiana, from the families who have lost a freezer of food, to businesses who have been shuttered as a result of power loss in hard hit communities.”
Mr. Smith and Jacoby said the legal team has retained experts necessary to aide them in holding Entergy accountable. This lawsuit only covers people who are residents and citizens of the State of Louisiana. For information about the lawsuit, call Mr. LaFonta at 504-323-6049.
The lawyers recommend that residents impacted by the power failure should keep a record of expenses and other documentation related to the scope of their damages. They also suggest residents and business owners keep a diary of notes or a computer journal about how the conditions have affected them from the loss of power.
“This records and notes will be important if called for testimony,” said Mr. Smith.
A class action lawsuit was filed Saturday in Orleans Civil District Court by Stuart Smith (of Counsel) and Andrew Jacoby of Cooper Law Firm, Juan LaFonta of Juan LaFonta and Associates, and Jack Harang of the Law Offices of Jack Harang against Entergy Corporation, Entergy New Orleans LLC and Entergy Louisiana LLC on behalf of nearly 1 million Hurricane Ida-impacted residents and business owners who suffered blackouts following Hurricane Ida due to the company’s failure to maintain its distribution and transmissions systems despite ratepayer increases for such actions.
The case has been assigned to the Honorable Rachel Johnson, Judge.
Attorney Juan LaFonta said, “We are standing up for people and businesses who have been injured as a result of Entergy’s negligence and failure to transmit energy to its customers. From the families who have lost a freezer of food to businesses who have been shuttered as a result of power loss in hard hit communities, to those with serious injuries or hyperthermia-related wrongful death due to the power loss, our intent is that all Hurricane Ida-impacted residents are represented in this class action lawsuit.”
Mr. LaFonta said a call center for those wishing to join the class action is 504-323-6049.
Last year, the energy corporation reported a record $1.4 billion in profits. Despite a 2007 “Hardening Study" and 2016 “Resilience Plan” the Entergy Corporation systematically deferred maintenance on infrastructure, causing avoidable blackouts to nearly one million properties in Louisiana during the hurricane and subsequent days.
“Entergy has been keenly aware of the shortfalls in their infrastructure for over a decade,” said Mr. Smith. “They knew their facilities were not sufficient to withstand severe weather, yet instead of upgrading their grid – like their study recommended and their plan outlined – they pocketed that money and sent all-time-high profits to their shareholders instead of protecting the health, welfare, safety, and lives of Louisiana residents.”
The lawsuit states that Entergy created a system that could not and would not sustain even a minor hurricane with wind gusts at or below 100 MPH. Entergy made the decision to not invest in the underground transmission of electricity, which in an environment like Southeast Louisiana, could have assured regular, consistent, and sustained protected service to all their customers, not just in affluent neighborhoods. Instead, Entergy chose the bubble gum and super glue approach to protect their billions of dollars over the welfare of their customers, because Entergy knew that whatever damages were sustained during a storm could be quickly billed back to its customer base.
Entergy’s greed and lies set the foreseeable stage for hundreds of thousands of people to be left without refrigeration, air conditioning, and in many cases sewerage problems. Entergy’s negligence also led to thousands of people not only sitting without lights; but, unable to learn what the storm and electric failure had wrought.
According to Mr. Smith, who has made a career highlighting the gross deficiencies and negligence of the world’s energy industry, eight out of 10 outages in Louisiana during the past five years are due to infrastructure issues. Entergy had been repeatedly fined over the past decade for deferred maintenance. A 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability found aging infrastructure to be more susceptible to damage caused by severe weather and hurricanes, and wind damage in particular.
“The Entergy corporation knew of the deficiencies in their infrastructure yet failed to act upon them,” said Attorney Harang, citing the companies’ claims that their transmission system could withstand 140 mph winds and that its River Tower, which carried transmissions to 216 substations and fell into the Mississippi River during Hurricane Ida, had no structural issues as of last year. “This is gross negligence.”
The attorneys also cited the failure of Entergy New Orleans to turn on its New Orleans Power Station, built to serve a small number of customers in case of a grid failure; it was not turned on until September 1- three days after Ida hit the area.
In addition to the costs associated with long-term power outages for homes and businesses, damages can include mold and mildew in buildings, loss of food, the costs of relocation, and the stress of dealing with these losses and dislocations. “Entergy should have foreseen the possibility of a Hurricane Ida and planned accordingly,” said Attorney LaFonta.
The legal team of Smith and Harang are best known for securing the $1.056 billion judgement against Exxon in the 2001 Grefer case (for radioactive contamination in the New Orleans community) as well as the $3.2 billion judgment for the New Orleans train explosion suit (NOTX).
Mr. Harang said, “We intend to also ultimately seek injunctive relief to require Entergy to provide protective underground service and create sufficient redundancies to guarantee this never happens again to all of Louisiana’s customers.”