Archives of the Mayor's Press Office
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: Thursday, July 15, 1999
Contact: Sunny Mindel/Matthew Higgins (212) 788-2958
Lorna Goodman, Law Department (212) 788-0999
MAYOR GIULIANI AND CORPORATION COUNSEL MICHAEL HESS
ANNOUNCE LAWSUIT AGAINST CON EDISON ON BEHALF OF CITY OF
NEW YORK, ITS RESIDENTS AND THE BOARD OF EDUCATION
City Will Also File Complaint With Public Service Commission
Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani today announced that the Corporation Counsel has filed a lawsuit against Con Edison on behalf of the City of New York, its residents and the Board of Education to recover damages resulting from the Washington Heights and Inwood blackout on July 6-7. The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring Con Edison to redesign its local electrical distribution system to meet the needs of the City and its residents in times of high temperatures and increased demand. The City will also file a complaint with the Public Service Commission seeking financial penalties against Con Edison for failing to meet its legal obligations under the Public Service Law.
The Board of Education, which is also a plaintiff in this lawsuit, highlighted the loss of much-needed instruction to children in summer school facilities that had to be shut down due to the loss of power.
"In light of power failures in New York City over the years, resulting in widespread property damage, Con Edison had ample warning and time to prevent a recurrence - and it failed to do so," the Mayor said. "The circumstances that endangered the welfare of more than 200,000 people and caused millions of dollars in property damage and economic loss on July 6-7 cannot be explained away as an 'act of God.' Rather, it was an act of gross negligence that could have been avoided. New York City's sustained economic expansion and ever-increasing need for electricity should have prompted Con Edison to reassess its ability to supply power to a major metropolis. Instead, Con Edison failed to anticipate the elevated demand for electrical power during the last heat wave and, for that, they must be held accountable."
Corporation Counsel Michael D. Hess said, "Con Edison must devise a plan to ensure the availability of an uninterrupted source of reliable electrical power. It's obvious that there are deficiencies in its current local distribution systems, which must be corrected. One purpose of the lawsuit is to address these issues."
City Council Speaker Peter Vallone said, "Con Edison's meager compensation for businesses that were devastated during the blackout is insulting. New Yorkers have invested billions of dollars in Con Edison - it's time they invested in New York."
On July 6, 1999, at approximately 10:11 p.m., Con Edison cut all power to the local electrical distribution system serving the Washington Heights area of Manhattan. The power disruption plunged all of Manhattan north of 155th Street into darkness, trapped subway riders in sweltering trains, caused tons of food to spoil, and jeopardized the health and safety of hundreds of thousands of people. By the time power was restored almost 18 hours later, the City of New York had incurred millions of dollars in expenses to provide additional emergency services and thousands of residents and businesses suffered tremendous economic losses.
The lawsuit, which was filed today in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, seeks to hold Con Edison liable for the following:
The City seeks the following relief and any further relief the Court deems appropriate:
- Gross Negligence: Con Edison was "grossly negligent" in failing to anticipate and plan for increased electrical power demand in 1999 and for failing to maintain, test and upgrade its local electrical distribution systems;
- Public Nuisance: Con Edison acted knowingly and recklessly and endangered the welfare of the public, depriving the City, its residents and the Board of Education of the use and enjoyment of public amenities and accommodations. Con Edison's actions and omissions created a public nuisance;
- Breach of Contract: Con Edison breached its contractual duty with the Power Authority of the State of New York to supply adequate electrical power to the City of New York, its residents and the Board of Education. As third party beneficiaries to this contract, plaintiffs suffered damages resulting from the breach.
- Damages to the City of New York and the Board of Education for all economic loss and property lost or destroyed as a result of the blackout to be determined at trial;
- Punitive damages to the City of New York and the Board of Education for Con Edison's grossly negligent behavior;
- A declaration that Con Edison's failure to plan for conditions leading up to the July 6-7 power failure, and its failure to maintain, install and service an adequate distribution system, created a public nuisance;
- Enjoining Con Edison to develop a plan for design, installation, maintenance and testing of a distribution system that will adequately supply electricity to its customers and prevent further blackouts;
- Appointment of a special master who will oversee Con Edison's new plan for the provision of electricity in New York City and report to the Court;
- A declaration that Con Edison has failed to meet its contractual obligation to provide reliable, uninterrupted electric service to the City of New York, its residents and the Board of Education;
- The creation of a procedure enabling residents to present claims of damage arising from Con Edison's gross negligence before an independent trier-of-fact and to receive just compensation for their losses.
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