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Deadline extended for gas disaster settlement claims

armacinski jharmacinski@eagletribune.com

LAWRENCE — The deadline to apply for payment from the $143 million settlement for gas disaster victims has been stretched until Jan. 31, 2020.

Salem Superior Court Judge James Lang this week approved the deadline change from Jan. 9 until Jan. 31, according to court papers.

Community groups in Lawrence expressed concern with the Jan. 9 deadline and “individuals’ ability to meet the claims deadline given the holidays.”

“As such, the legislators and community members requested that the filing claims deadline be extended

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to Jan. 31,” according to Lang’s motion.

Columbia Gas attorneys and the settlement administrator both agreed to the request.

“The Court’s extension of the claims submission deadline to January 31st gives us that much more time to help class members with the claims process. We continue to work with residents and business owners to help them get the relief they deserve from the settlement,” according to a statement from John Roddy of Bailey and Glasser, a lead attorney for the gas disaster victims.

The Sept. 13, 2018 gas disaster, caused by overpressurization of gas lines, affected residents and businesses in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence. Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, was killed, dozens were injured and damages are estimated at $1 billion.

Three firefighters and 19 civilians were hurt, 50,000 people were forced to evacuate and the severity of the damage depended on the age of appliances people had. Five homes were destroyed and 131 structures damaged, according to findings by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The settlement could benefit roughly 175,000 residents and businesses and allows for six categories of lump-sum payouts, ranging from $50 for a “nominal” disruption to as much as $15,000 for a “major” disruption.

All residents, property owners and businesses in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover are eligible, even those not serviced by Columbia Gas, according to the settlement.

Nearly $28 million — or about 20% of the total settlement — would go to the lawyers for their legal fees and expenses.

Residents and businesses have been notified about how to apply for settlement money through television and radio ads, social media posts, press releases and mailed notices to households and businesses. A claims assistance office was opened at 300 Brickstone Plaza in Andover, which is staffed Monday through Friday, and town hall style meetings have been held in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, according to court papers.

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera earlier this week released a letter saying he believes the settlement should be nullified.

“I am of the opinion that the settlement terms are unfair and unreasonable,” he said in a letter dated Nov. 9. The deadline to file objections to the class action suit with the settlement administrator, Judge Lang, was Dec. 10, 2019.

The reason Rivera objects to the suit, he said, is that the attorneys’ fees proposed as part of the settlement are too high, the time frame to apply for compensation under the settlement is too short, and the claims process is too complicated.

He isn’t the only one objecting to the proposed settlement.

A group of residents who formerly lived in a multifamily at 6-12 Springfield St. filed an objection to the settlement, saying they suffered mental and physical distress when their apartment building burned in the disaster.

They are being represented by D’Angelo Law Group of North Andover. In their objection, signed by attorneys Stephen D’Angelo and Matthew Andrade, the residents said the class action suit should be “denied or decertified” for a number of reasons, including the fact that the amounts being offered are not enough.

Rivera, told of the new application deadline on Friday, suggested if the known Columbia Gas customer list of “affected people” was used the process could be streamlined.

“...There would be no need for a deadline or to move it,” he said.

“This is still not enough. At its core the amount is not enough, the amount for the attorneys is too much, the process of having to apply is unnecessary ... $45,000 per day for the attorneys who were not affected is legal theft,” Rivera said.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @

EagleTribJill.

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