National Grid saddled with more lawsuits due to natural gas outage

    Five Newport restaurants are the latest to file suit against National Grid. (WJAR)

    Five Newport restaurants are the latest to file suit against National Grid.

    The lawsuit comes on the heels of several others filed by residents and businesses who are suing the utility for damages caused by the Newport gas crisis last week.

    “We’re not looking to gouge anyone,” said Richard Sardella, who is the co-owner of Sardella’s Italian Restaurant in Newport. “I'm not looking to recoup more. We’re trying to recoup our losses and I don't think that's unreasonable.”

    Sardella’s is one of several Newport restaurants represented in the mass action lawsuit filed Thursday.

    “Instead of a class action, we named each business separately as separate plaintiffs against the defendants and they'll each get a chance to litigate their own damages in the courtroom,” said Robert Karns, of Karns and Kerrison Law Firm.

    Sardella said his restaurant took a big hit during the gas crisis, forced to serve a menu with only cold food, even losing out when two big parties cancelled their reservations. He said some of his employees had to file for unemployment.

    “It was a $21,000 impact,” Sardella told NBC 10 News Friday. “In Newport this time of year, that’s a considerable amount of money.”

    Karns said a mass action suit was filed because the impact and damage varies for each business.

    “They had to lay people off. They had to throw food out because it was spoiled. They couldn't bring any income in because they had to close down,” Karns said.

    In the lawsuit, Karns ties the gas crisis to a 2018 labor dispute in Massachusetts, accusing National Grid of locking out union workers and hiring inexperienced contractors instead. He also blames the problem on poor infrastructure, while National Grid has long said the issue stemmed from a bad valve on the transmission line.

    “There were many problems caused by negligence, caused by not reinvesting, caused by not keeping the equipment proper,” Karns said. “And caused by laying off the experienced workers and bringing in workers who were not very experienced.”

    In a statement, National Grid told NBC 10 “the company does not comment on pending litigation.” Enbridge issued a similar statement, saying, "it is Algonquin Gas Transmission’s policy not to comment on matters of pending litigation."

    “We just want to recoup our damages for last week and move on,” Sardella said. “Hopefully, National Grid will make sure this situation never happens again.”

    Businesses can file claims through National Grid. The state is also offering loans to small businesses, while the utility is offering up to $500,000 in grant money to help businesses recover.

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