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Outages Devastate Many Small Businesses; Some Join Class Action Suit

Since a Canton hair salon owner took action, law firm has been inundated with calls from business owners.

Any small business owner in Connecticut can tell you that the economy’s bad enough without outside factors like power outages limiting revenue even more.  Connecticut Light and Power’s restoration efforts have taken more than 10 days to reach some business owners, and many are so incensed that they have flocked to a class-action lawsuit begun by a Canton hair stylist.

, Avon resident and owner of the Canton hair salon , filed the lawsuit with the Forestville-based firm of Jazlowiecki & Jazlowiecki seeking $1,000 in damages after losing power at his salon on Albany Turnpike from the Saturday of the storm until Tuesday of last week. The intention behind the suit, he said, was less about recovering business losses than finding out why CL&P’s response allowed them to be incurred in the first place. He said he has been receiving calls from other small business owners thanking him for introducing the suit as they join it.

“I wasn’t affected that much at all. This isn’t a thing about money, we want to find out what happened to small business owners to prevent this from happening again … we can’t continually take this hit,” he said.

According to firm partner Edward Jazlowiecki, it is impossible to say exactly how many residents and small business owners had joined the suit due to the sheer influx of requests. “We’re getting calls every few minutes, sorting through e-mails … trying to play catch-up right now,” he said this week, adding that five attorneys are devoted to working on the case.

The suit pursues $20 million in damages from CL&P, though Jazlowiecki said that the figure could change depending upon the number of plaintiffs that eventually join the case. Clients are trying to collect on financial losses on food, lost business and sales, and the cost of buying generators to remain open following the storm. Jazlowiecki said that personal injury is also a potential grievance among clients.

There is no cost to join the lawsuit, Jazlowiecki said, and the firm will collect a percentage of any damages awarded during the proceedings.

Plaintiffs range from all over the state, according to Jazlowiecki, but the highest concentrations of clients come from heavily wooded towns, such as Vernon, Avon, Simsbury, and Farmington. He said that he is also seeing many clients join the suit from Bristol.

Jazlowiecki was unable to reveal the names of clients who had joined the case except for Simmons, the initial plaintiff, but he said they included four hair salons, a Farmington luncheonette, liquor stores, and doctors' offices.

Those names will becomes available through an amendment complaint once the suit comes closer to going to trial, Jazlowiecki said.

“The suit is still new, and we’re seeing where it goes,” he said.

Simmons said that part of that motivation behind filing the suit comes from news reports that CL&P’s response and restoration efforts occurred so slowly because the company had not paid their bills from work done during Hurricane Irene. Reports have also indicated that CL&P was not willing to spend money to have crews on standby like other East Coast states, he said.

“It just seems like the more you find out about it, the more … something needs to be done.  And I don’t see anyone doing anything,” he said.

Simmons says his concern lies with other businesses owners who experienced greater losses than himself and making sure that restoration efforts from future storms don’t take such a long time to complete.  He also believes that the lawsuit’s discovery process will force CL&P to reveal documentation that will illustrate how they handled the restoration effort and why it was an ongoing process more than 10 days after the storm.

Staying Afloat

Many business owners have been struggling to continue operating even within the past few days.

Amy Roberts of , located just down the street from Simmons’ salon on Route 44, said that she had gotten power back at her place of business after 10 days at 9 p.m. on Nov. 8, and even then only because a Texas utility crew went out of its way to help her. She said that falling branches dislodged during the cleanup process following the storm disabled the transformer that served the BreMar building, and that she had not received any constructive response from CL&P until getting into contact with Canton First Selectman Dick Barlow on Nov. 8.

BreMar was the only building without power in the area after Nov. 2, but stayed open thanks to a pair of generators running the building’s computer and lights.  The business only regained power on Nov. 8 because the utility crew that had been dispatched to the building stayed late to perform a quick fix on the damaged transformer.

Roberts said that she had definitely lost business due to the outage, largely due to the phones being out. She considered this to be especially inconvenient because her business, which rents such things as chain saws and wood chippers, would have helped residents considerably in the days following the storm. She could not put an exact price on the revenue lost nor how much she had spent on gasoline to keep the generators running, though she said there had been “quite a few” trips to the gas station.

“I mean, people even yesterday were like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were open but I thought I would stop by’ … I mean, people who got their power back wanted other stuff as well, so I lost all of that … on top of who could I not help, because I didn’t have my chippers up and running,” she said.

Elsewhere on Route 44, , a secondhand goods shop, lost about a week’s worth of business during its month-long anniversary sale, according to its owner Kimberly Hathaway. The situation was made worse because the store sees most of its business on weekends and had been forced to stay closed the Sunday following the storm.

, located up the street and owned by Hathaway’s husband Eric Hathaway, fared better in the days following the storm thanks to selling such things as rotary phones (which Hathaway said worked with AT&T service), oil lamps, transistor radios, and fireplace equipment, all of which were in high demand thanks to the powerless status of many homes.  The store was still forced to stay closed Oct. 30 through Nov. 2, however, and lost business the day of the storm.

“When it started snowing, the customers sort of evaporated,” Hathaway said.

In Farmington, lost power at 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 and remained that way until 11 a.m. on Nov. 8. According to restaurant manager Joe Sweeney, businesses on either side of the restaurant going up Route 6 recovered power days before, while the two other and Newington recovered power the Wednesday following the storm.

Attempts to contact CL&P about their situation only resulted in having the number of customers without power being quoted to them, according to Sweeney.

“It was like time and space just stopped for a week around here,” he said.

The restaurant only opened back up at 5 p.m. on Nov. 9.  Sweeney was not at liberty to put a dollar amount to the amount of business lost, but said that state law required them to dispose of all of the food stored in the restaurant as a result of the power outage. The amount filled two 8-yard-long Dumpsters.

When asked what she thought of BreMar joining the lawsuit, Roberts said that it would likely not happen but that CL&P’s lack of response had been extremely irresponsible and led to a great deal of inconvenience for the company.

“As a business, if we tell you we’re going to deliver this tractor, we give you a time frame,” she said. “I have to be held accountable for that. They [CL&P] should be the same.”

David Moelling November 11, 2011 at 04:54 PM
I googled storm outage durations (who would know it's that easy?) With a little bit of effort I found that the outage durations for events of similar size (# of customers out of power) are also similar from 6-12 days for Hurricanes and big storms like that. Ice storms tended to have longer outages due to large numbers of snapped poles. Despite all the huffing and puffing, the investigations will probably find that CL&P fell within this band. Some deficiencies will be found and scapegoats will be roasted. One thing I did find in my research was that the customer anger has grown over time with even short outages. I guess we can't live without internet or TV!
Andrew Ziemba November 12, 2011 at 05:15 AM
LOL @ The Asylum. I'm not surprised. Businesses everywhere are struggling just to stay afloat they will take anything they can get any way that they can get it. Now I just need to figure out some way that I can cash in like everyone else hmmmmmm...
Kristen Stevens November 12, 2011 at 03:56 PM
This "I'm going to sue you" attitude makes me ill on so many levels. First, I don't understand Mr. Simmons's position to be the front dog in this fight. His website clearly says "by appointment only" so obviously his clients rescheduled. Secondly, perhaps he should also sue the town as most roads were impassible so his customers would not have been able to get to The Asylum anyways. Third, $1000.00 seems rather high for his lost business especially since he was most likely closed Saturday night and Sunday. I hope his books will be checked to make sure he actually lost $1000.00 and his appointments never rescheduled for another time. And lastly, I am a small business owner in Collinsville. I take appointments but rely on walk in traffic for the bulk of my income. I would never dream of suing over such nonsense that will surely increase my neighbors' electric bills if Mr. Simmons and others like him are awarded monies. Perhaps I should sue The Asylum when I see an increase in my bill? Hmmm...
Malvi Lennon November 12, 2011 at 08:13 PM
While I think CL&P was unprepared, and management did a terrible job as far as logistics is concerned suing is not the answer. Most businesses have business interruption insurance to compensate them for loss of business.
R.J. November 13, 2011 at 04:08 PM
There are legitimate reasons to be frustrated with CL&P, however, a petition is a far better way to go. If aggrevated by CL&P's performance as well as by their proposed upcoming rate hikes, please sign and pass along to others to sign: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/actionagainstconnlightandpower

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