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Customers Hit By Sandy Fight For Class-Action Status In Suit Against LIPA

MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A lawsuit on Long Island could make history as the first class-action suit in the nation against a public utility for storm-related power outages.

As CBS 2's Carolyn Gusoff reported, nearly 1 million customers of the old Long Island Power Authority are suing over losing their power during and after Superstorm Sandy.

The case was before a judge Tuesday in Nassau County.

Laura Brennan of Oceanside is among the plaintiffs. Fifteen months after Sandy knocked out power on Long Island, she wants payback.

"Where was their disaster plan?" Brennan said. "They had no disaster plan, and we all suffered."

Brennan was among the 900,000 customers who could recoup damages if the class-action lawsuit is allowed to proceed.

LIPA has asked the judge to dismiss the case, on the grounds that there was no common cause of the outages.

Public outcry against LIPA was intense, with thousands in the dark and cold for weeks following Sandy. But the long-awaited legal response from LIPA, delivered by the attorney, told the judge: "Storms happen, outages happen, customers get upset and hire lawyers who create class action suits. These are individual disputes that cannot be looked at as one case."

But ratepayers argued that the common thread is negligence. Plaintiffs' attorney Kenneth Mollins initiated the class action.

"Every penny that was paid to LIPA – some of that money was supposed to go to maintenance, and it didn't," Mollins said. "People are entitled to that money back for years and years and years."

Ratepayers claimed trees were not trimmed, poles were not replaced, technology was outdated, and LIPA did not prepare for the storm.

Their attorneys said 1 million customers should not have to file individual lawsuits.

"LIPA sat on its hands and didn't do anything – didn't do upgrades, didn't update the system – essentially saying to Long Island, 'We don't care,'" said plaintiffs' attorney Alexander Schmidt.

Damages could be paid through insurance money rather than higher rates, attorneys said.

Customers could recoup money for spoiled food, frozen pipes, and hotel expenses. But before any of that, ratepayers have asked to unite to form one lawsuit.

The judge in the case did not say how long he would take to rule.

While LIPA still exists as the owner of the Long Island electrical system,

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