After receiving a bill of more than $3,000 for personal electric usage, a Potomac Edison customer has filed a lawsuit against the company for what he believes are illegal billing practices.
And his attorney says this may just be the first of many lawsuits against the electric company.
The lawsuit, filed by John Kilroy of Shepherdstown, states that Kilroy was receiving inaccurate bills based on incorrect meter readings performed by Potomac Edison technicians. Kilroy had been receiving monthly bills of $129.73 until he was unexpectedly billed for $3,159.37 in May.
Upon receiving the unusually high bill, Kilroy filed a complaint with the Public Service Commission. Potomac Edison officials said the large bill was the result of an incorrect meter reading conducted by the company in January. Kilroy's next three bills were based on estimates of what Potomac Edison thought he owed. The $3,159.37 bill appears to be for Kilroy's electrical usage since November 2012.
Kilroy claims Potomac Edison violated the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act by not accurately tracking and billing his electrical usage. Kilroy believes he was underbilled for the winter months, which led him to believe his usage was reasonable, thus inducing him to use much more electricity than he otherwise would have.
Kilroy also claims Potomac Edison kept sending bills indicating that the January and May meter readings were accurate, despite knowing they were not.
According to Andrew Skinner, Kilroy's attorney, Kilroy received another bill just after filing the lawsuit that was inaccurate and did not honor a previous agreement between the customer and the utility company.
"When my client filed a complaint with the Public Service Commission, Potomac Edison said he only had to pay half of the $3,159.37 bill. Now, two months later, they are saying they need the full amount," he said.
The Consumer Credit and Protection Act requires debt collectors to accurately bill customers and prohibits debt collectors such as Potomac Edison from misrepresenting the extent, amount or character of a debt.
"Debt collectors, including utility companies, have an obligation to provide accurate bills," Skinner said.
The FirstEnergy subsidiary's billing practices have been the subject of numerous consumer complaints and several public hearings this year. Skinner said more lawsuits may be forthcoming.
"I would be shocked if (Kilroy was) the only one," he said. "I have another client who wants to (sue Potomac Edison)."
According to Skinner, it may be difficult for Potomac Edison customers to file a class-action lawsuit since the nature of each customer's complaint is slightly different.
"It doesn't seem like Potomac Edison did the same thing to every customer, although their billing practices may have negatively impacted many people," he said. "For a class-action lawsuit, the cases need to be similar."
However, Skinner said customers may be able to file a mass-action lawsuit, in which there are many individual plaintiffs.
He said trials typically take place about a year from when a suit was filed, so Kilroy's civil trial may happen in December 2014 or January 2015.
Before filing the lawsuit, Skinner sent a letter to Potomac Edison, asking the company to correct its billing inaccuracies as required by the Consumer Credit and Protection Act. Potomac Edison representatives failed to respond.