Hurricane Irma Suit Against FPL to Continue

Posted By: Garnie Holmes Industry ,

By NSF Staff

An appeals court Wednesday declined to dismiss a lawsuit filed against Florida Power & Light by a former resident of a Broward County nursing home that was plunged into sweltering conditions after Hurricane Irma knocked out its air-conditioning system. A three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal allowed the case to move forward against FPL, which supplied electricity to The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills. Former resident Bernice Moultrie, who was 96 years old at the time of the 2017 hurricane and suffered heat-related injuries, filed the lawsuit last year against FPL and the nursing home.

The case alleged that negligence by FPL contributed to the lengthy outage of the air-conditioning system. In seeking to dismiss the case, FPL contended that it was immune from lawsuits stemming from “acts of God” under a state-approved “tariff,” which sets out issues such as utility rates and service regulations. “FPL argues that the rates approved by the tariff depend on FPL being afforded protection and that exposure to suits such as this --- for power outages following a hurricane --- would undermine the regulatory scheme and risk higher electricity rates for all Floridians,” the appeals court wrote in a footnote Wednesday.

A Broward County circuit judge refused to dismiss the case against FPL, finding that the utility’s argument about a limit on its liability requires “factual determinations.” The appeals court said it was not able to procedurally review the argument in such a situation. “Here, the trial court concluded that dismissal of the complaint was not appropriate because FPL’s claim that its tariff limits its liability requires factual determinations,” said the ruling, written by appeals court Judge Cory Ciklin and joined by judges Robert Gross and Jeffrey Kuntz. “Because FPL’s claim of immunity turns on disputed facts … review is not available.” Authorities have blamed the sweltering conditions for the deaths of residents, and the state moved quickly to shut down the facility.

Article reposted with permission from The News Service of Florida.