Health officials want studies of natural gas projects

AMANDA SABGA/Staff photo

People wait in line at the Red Cross resource center at the Arlington School in Lawrence after the Sept. 13, 2018 natural gas disaster that affected areas in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.  Columbia Gas has settled class action lawsuits with businesses and residences seeking compensation.

Lawyers spearheading multiple class-action lawsuits following the Merrimack Valley gas disaster last September have reached an agreement in principle with Columbia Gas on behalf of residents and businesses in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.

According to a statement Monday morning from a Columbia Gas spokesperson, Columbia Gas and its parent company NiSource have agreed to pay $143 million to thousands of residents and businesses impacted by the gas explosions from Sept. 13, 2018.

The proposed class-action settlement will give money to those who suffered hardships after the sudden blasts and fires 10 months ago.

This settlement, which is subject to court approval, is separate from the money paid to the towns to cover infrastructure repairs and other expenses, the statement says, as well as from the individual claims involving personal injuries and wrongful death.

After its approval, residents and businesses will be able to submit claims, according to the statement.

“Our aim has always been to help the affected communities and to hold Columbia Gas fully accountable for the harm to the thousands of individuals and businesses in the Merrimack Valley,” said Plaintiffs’ Co-lead Counsel Frank Petosa of Morgan and Morgan.

“This settlement, reached in an unprecedented 10 months after the incident, will provide a full measure of compensation to thousands of residents and businesses in a transparent and expeditious manner, under rigorous judicial oversight.”

The Columbia Gas-managed claims process, overseen by a court-supervised mediator, will continue until the court gives preliminary approval to the settlement.

Then an independent claims administrator will take over the process, the statement says.

It goes on to explain that residents will be entitled to compensation for the displacement and disruption of their lives the catastrophe caused, and property damage not previously paid for by Columbia Gas. Businesses will be able to claim lost income, lost inventory and the loss of goodwill.

“The claims process will be simple, straightforward and tailored to correspond to the event’s impact on the claimant,” said Co-Liaison Counsel, Brad Henry of Meehan, Boyle, Black & Bogdanow.