Los Angeles Department of Water and Power officials said Thursday their customers would receive full refunds for any over-payments related to inaccurate bills sent out amid the utility’s bungled overhaul of its billing system, under revised settlement terms submitted to a judge this week.
DWP and city officials said they support the settlement — which has drawn criticism from consumer advocates — “because it returns 100 cents on the dollar to every customer affected by our billing system problems.”
They added that the settlement also “provides every customer a thorough and fair neutral process for resolving claims, including the opportunity to have their claims heard directly by the court.”
Utility officials say the deal, if accepted by the court, will result in $44 million in over-charges to be credited back to customers.
But consumer advocates critical of the deal say that despite the recent revisions, the settlement terms still give DWP too much power to dictate the refund amount.
Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court called the revised settlement “remarkably flawed,” and called the claims process it would set up “confusing.”
Court also lashed back at the DWP’s statements, saying that the attorney who crafted the settlement will get his $13 million in fees as soon as the settlement deal goes through, while customers may need to wait until 2017 or later to get their checks, under the settlement.
“DWP has no obligation to deliver the refunds and credits until 2017, and possibly 2019,” if there are appeals, Court said.
DWP officials said the new settlement, which was filed in court on Wednesday, includes all 12 revisions requested by Judge Elihu Berle. Those changes include putting in signature lines for class plaintiff representatives, using six languages on the claims forms, setting up an online claims submission system and giving clearer information about the kinds of claims ratepayers could make.
Critics of the settlement have until Dec. 4 to submit objections to the court, according to DWP’s statement.
Lead attorneys on the settlement said this week the latest changes should clarify some of the major issues that opponents of the deal have raised, including how they would affect customers who underpaid, or are receiving back bills, and may actually need to pay back the utility.
Customers who are back-billed would still retain the ability to challenge the DWP’s right to ask for money they failed to bill for earlier, according to Attorney Tom Merriman, of Landskroner Grieco Merriman.
The settlement deal has been criticized for requiring anyone joining the class-action settlement to waive their rights to litigate or challenge the amounts, even before they knew whether they owed money or were due refunds.
Merriman said Wednesday that DWP customers would also be informed of their “pre-identified amount of their recovery” before deciding whether they want to opt out of the settlement, under the revised terms.
The revised terms also clarify that claims will be reviewed by a “special master” whose decision needs the ultimate approval of the court, according to Merriman.
— Wire reports