Marian Goldstein was already dealing with a PSEG Long Island outage last October when, sometime before midnight, the lights flashed on for a brief bright instant before flickering out. Soon, she and her husband Michael could smell smoke permeate their Baldwin home.
It was the start of a long, difficult fight against the electric utility — but one that resulted in a small-claims court victory last week, a rare win by a ratepayer taking on PSEG’s claim process. As Newsday reported last year, only around 15 percent of the 2,400 customers who file claims against the utility are successful.
In the six months since her chaotic night, the 83-year-old Goldstein has worked to hold PSEG to account for what she charged was negligence leading to damage of more than $7,000 in electrical equipment and appliances in her home.
PSEG spokeswoman Brooke Houston said the company “does not agree with the decision and is considering options.” She declined to respond to Newsday questions about the case.
In her initial claim with PSEG and in court, Goldstein charged that PSEG’s negligence led the utility to install faulty equipment that sent a surge of electricity through her neighborhood more suitable for industrial users. The surge led to several small fires at neighbors’ homes, and damage to Goldstein’s electric circuit breakers, surge protectors, her home AC/heating system, even the small purifier the lung-cancer survivor uses to filter her air.
Last Friday, Nassau Small Claims Court Judge Scott H. Siller agreed with Goldstein, awarding her $5,000 plus costs and interest in the case.
“The whole thing was such a bad process,” said Goldstein, former director of social work at Long Island Jewish Medical Center (now Northwell Health), and a member of the New York State Board of Medicine. “It was so time consuming and so nasty.”
PSEG rejected her initial claim last year and in a response to Newsday at the time suggested storm conditions led to the damage. “From our initial investigation, it appears that the strong winds may have damaged the primary tap causing it to come in contact with a transformer, and causing significant damage to the transformer,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Flagler wrote.
Goldstein noted that the problem came hours after the storm and the outage, during the repair.
Adding insult to injury, she said, was that all of PSEG’s legal costs, including the services of an expert witness in court last week, were paid for by ratepayers, including herself.
“I felt like more of a criminal than the criminals because of the way they treated us,” said Goldstein of her court battle. “I was treated as if I was an imbecile, as if I didn’t know . . . ”
She also experienced difficulties with LIPA, whose top official and attorneys denied her requests under the Freedom of Information Law for documents, including an investigative report of the incident. LIPA chief Tom Falcone in a letter to Goldstein stated the document was “privileged.”
Marian Goldstein said given the way the utility fought against her, she expects PSEG may appeal her case. “They certainly spent a lot of money on this trial,” she said.
She urged customers, including her neighbors who are looking to file, to prepare to fight from the moment a problem arises.
“It’s the first time I ever had to stand up and defend myself. I’m used to defending other people,” she said. “This really was one of the hardest experiences I’ve ever had. Nobody along the way [at PSEG] made it any easier.”