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Southwest Blackout Caused by Negligence?

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on September 15, 2011 1:05 PM

Is it possible to win a blackout lawsuit?

Plaintiffs in a just-filed class action suit against Arizona Public Service, the utility company responsible for last week's 12-hour Southwest blackout, think so.

Accusing the company, along with San Diego Gas & Electric, of negligence, the lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in compensatory, statutory and punitive damages on behalf of affected customers living in California.

At this juncture, APS has effectively admitted that the blackout, which included parts of Arizona, California and Mexico, was the result of an employee error and malfunctioning procedures.

In a press release, the company explains that a worker sparked the Southwest blackout while making a repair in the North Gila substation, and that "operating and protection protocols typically would have isolated the resulting outage" to that area.

Plaintiffs, representing individuals and business owners, want to be compensated for food lost as a result of the blackout.

The USDA suggests that most perishable meat and dairy items be discarded after 4 hours, and with a 12-hour outage, the San Diego Reader reports that most homeowners and business were affected.

The problem with blackout lawsuits of this nature is that they are not often premised on actual negligence.

Though some blackouts are caused by operator error and improper maintenance, many are the result of ancient infrastructure, which is a pervasive issue within the industry. This is not generally considered negligence.

Depending on what caused the "operating and protection protocols" to malfunction, the Southwest blackout lawsuit could fall into this second category and ultimately fail.

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