Should Utility Pay for Spoiled Food After Power Outage?

A consumer attorney says it can be challenging to get reimbursed for losses due to a power outage

A Laguna Hills resident hopes to energize Southern California Edison to revise its claims policies for power outages. At issue, the utility company's refusal to reimburse him for food he says spoiled during a power outage.

The power company experienced a nearly five-hour outage last July in Steve Lane's neighborhood. He initially received a letter saying damage to an underground cable caused the outage. In a separate email, the utility blamed a heat wave, telling the I-Team the high temperatures were an act of God that created an unusually high usage rate causing a system failure.

"It was not an act of God, a lightning strike or anything like that," Lane said.

Lane filed a claim with SoCal Edison for nearly $96 to replace food he had in his refrigerator.

Lane is in remission from stomach and throat cancer. His diet, he says, is especially sensitive to food left unrefrigerated too long.

"I'd be in the hospital immediately if I ate spoiled food," Lane said.

SoCal Edison tells the I-Team it reviewed and denied Lane's claim, saying in a statement: "Typically food storage is not impacted in 4 1/2 hours, food that's kept in the refrigerator does not go bad or spoil in that time."

The utility bases that opinion on standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which estimates that during an outage in severe heat, refrigerated food can spoil in about six hours.

The power company also says it did not receive any other complaints and called their response to restore power in under five hours "phenomenal."

Consumer attorney Stu Talley said it can be challenging to get reimbursed for losses due to a power outage.

"As a consumer, you would have to prove that the utility did something wrong, which I think would be very difficult," Talley said.

Lane says that the outage occurred and he has health problems should be proof enough for reimbursement.

As part of their statement, SoCal Edison says it is not responsible for "power outages, voltage fluctuations, food loss or property damage due to forces outside out control such as earthquakes and weather related conditions including wind, rain, fog, lightning or extreme heat."

Lane says being denied a reimbursement is hard to stomach.

"It was just the lack of empathy that really, really irritated me," Lane said.

SoCal Edison paid more than $2 million in claims to customers for two prolonged outages in the Long Beach area last year. Those were outages that each lasted a week or longer.

The Orange County Food Bank offered to replace Lane's food at no cost. He declined the offer, saying there were people more needy than himself. He said his complaint was about principle and accountability of utility companies for power outages.

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