As we noted last week, a Jefferson County customer has filed a civil suit against Potomac Edison. When WHAG asked viewers if they had also been over billed on its Facebook page, response was overwhelming! More than 160 people posted comments, many claiming to have received bills in the hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Now Charles Town attorney Andrew Skinner says, "...more suits may follow against the electric company."
The FirstEnergy subsidiary's billing practices have been the subject of numerous consumer complaints and several public hearings this year. While Skinner says a class-action lawsuit is unlikely, customers may be able to file a mass-action lawsuit, in which there are many individual plaintiffs."
An article in the Martinsburg Journal explains the progression of the initial suit filed by Shepherdstown resident John Kilroy. After many months of wrangling with Potomac Edison, and after going through the formal complaint process at the WV Public Service Commission (where the company signed a settlement agreement forgiving half of the amount in question), the company continued to bill Kilroy the full amount. Every avenue short of a lawsuit was explored, but the company continued to insist that Kilroy owed more than $3000.
Before filing the lawsuit, Skinner sent a letter to Potomac Edison, asking the company to correct its billing inaccuracies as required by the Consumer Credit and Protection Act. Potomac Edison representatives failed to respond.
After sitting through the evidentiary hearing last week, it looks like the company lacks a healthy and respectful fear of our Public Service Commission. Why does the company treat regulation like it's something that can be "fixed?" When I arrived at the PSC for day 2 of the evidentiary hearing last Wednesday, someone asked me if I happened to notice Sammy Gray on my way in. Sammy Gray is FirstEnergy's West Virginia lobbyist. What would a lobbyist be doing trying to influence an impartial, quasi-judicial regulatory board? Why would he ever set foot in that building? Is our PSC just another corporate apologist?
I'm starting to think that consumers (or "business partners," as FirstEnergy training manuals call us) could be mistaken if they believe that West Virginia's legislative or regulatory processes are designed to serve them.
Because we can't get justice through our government, it's time to take it to a higher level and quit wasting our time at a PSC that will not exercise its authority.
What's a consumer to do when the legislators and regulators fail him? Take the matter up with a judge in your own county and seek justice through the court system.
Go ahead, fill out the form. It's your only path to justice in West Virginia.