Lawsuit filed against company accused of causing Outer Banks power outage
Posted July 31
Updated August 1
Ocracoke, N.C. — A class action lawsuit has been filed against the company whose contractors accidentally severed transmission lines, causing an extended power outage to the southern half of the Outer Banks.
PCL Construction, a contractor working on the Bonner Bridge replacement, accidentally severed last Thursday two of the three underwater transmission lines supplying power to Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.
Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday declared a state of emergency and a mandatory evacuation was put into place for both islands. About 40,000 to 50,000 people had been evacuated from the island as of Monday evening, while approximately 5,000 to 6,000 people remain.
"The island has been evacuated, nobody is there. They do not have people coming into their businesses," said attorney Matt Lee with Whitfield Bryson and Mason.
On Monday, a class action suit was filed by Whitfield Bryson and Mason on behalf of two people who own homes used as vacation rentals as well as an art gallery owner, who said their properties have been negatively impacted by the outage.
"We all saw on the news last week when the power line got hit," Lee said. "We realized there were a lot of people out there who needed help navigating the system."
The lawsuit claims that, due to the uncertainty of when repairs to fully restore power will be completed, those named in the suit have “been devastated because of lost rentals, tourist and business income during the peak tourist season.”
The lawsuit also asserts that tourists have canceled plans to visit the island through the rest of tourist season because of the lingering uncertainty surrounding repairs.
Susan Flythe, the general manager of the electric co-op, said crews have already spliced one of the damaged cables and are digging up the second one. The utility also is putting up an overhead transmission line from the Bonner Bridge to existing lines on Hatteras Island, she said.
Flythe said crews are working on both plans until it's clear which is fastest and safest. Depending on the approach, rrepairs could take one to two weeks, she said.
The lawsuit is seeking damages from PLC, stating they could have prevented the power outage by “using proper risk management practices, following industry standards, following required safety protocols and precautionary procedures and properly maintaining equipment.”
“Moreover, because their conduct endangered the health and safety of a large region and population, caused and increased the risk of serious injury and bodily harm, and affected a financially vulnerable population dependent on tourism and vacationers during this time of year, the degree of reprehensibility of PLC’s conduct is at the highest level,” the lawsuit states.
Cooper visited businesses in Rodanthe on Monday to see firsthand the impact of the outage on the local economy. He praised coastal residents as resilient, noting they have weathered many storm-related outages in the past.
Cooper said his staff and the Attorney General's Office will work to see if business owners and tourists who have lost money can be reimbursed. Numerous tourists have said vacation rental agencies are refusing to refund the money they paid for homes they cannot stay in this week because of the evacuation, insisting that refunds are provided only in the event of a natural disaster.