A class-action lawsuit was filed Monday against the construction company that accidentally caused island-wide power outages in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
The lawsuit, which was filed in a U.S. District Court, was put forth by businesses and visitors from the popular vacation destination that has been without power since Thursday and will likely stay that way for at least a week.
The suit alleges that PCL Construction — the company that accidentally drove a steel pylon through two power transmission lines during bridge construction — acted negligently, according to court documents filed in the Eastern District of North Carolina.
“In designing and building the Bonner Bridge, PCL had a duty to exercise reasonable care during construction so as not to cause any interference with the vacation rental plans of individuals and families in the affected area,” court documents stated.
Five plaintiffs are listed on the document and are expected to represent more than 5,000 affected by the power outage, according to court documents.
“We have been contacted by hundreds of individuals and businesses affected by this incident," Joseph Sauder, a partner at McCune, Wright, Arevalo, which is representing the case, told USA TODAY. “Most businesses on these islands rely on the summer season to make it through the year. If this goes on as long as expected, some of these small businesses may be devastated and never recover.”
PCL Construction could not be reached for comment.
The power outage that sent thousands of tourists off of Hatteras and Ocracoke islands has been described as “devastating” by local business people and a “major hit economically” by Hyde County officials.
According to court documents, the renters and companies will suffer more than a $5 million hit because of the power outages.
“Many business owners are concerned that their employees may not stay and they will have a lack of workforce when power is restored,” Hyde County spokesman Donnie Shumate said. “That's in addition to the money already lost due to the outage.”
Sauder said many hourly employees are currently not being paid.
The economic toll on businesses wasn't the only issue cited in the lawsuit. The court documents also mention “significant economic and personal hardship” felt by visitors who were forcibly evacuated from the island. Those who stayed could have been charged with class 2 misdemeanors.
Renters and companies looking for reimbursements, though, may face an obstacle. The decision to evacuate tourists was made in part by business owners of Ocracoke island, Shumate said.
“We have something called a control group on the island, and it’s composed of business owners and they get together … and make the official recommendation of whether or not to evacuate the island,” Shumate said in a previous interview with USA TODAY. “It was a decision made by a group of business owners on the island.”
Though power transmission cables may not be fixed for a week or two, North Carolina Electric Cooperatives, which owns the damaged line, and Hyde County officials hope to have enough generator power restored to bring visitors back to the island before then.
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