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Breezy Point residents, LIPA to tangle in NY’s top court

Homes destroyed by fire on Breezy Point, seen

Homes destroyed by fire on Breezy Point, seen here on Nov. 1, 2012, after superstorm Sandy hit the area. Credit: Newsday / Nancy Borowick

ALBANY — Scores of Breezy Point homeowners will square off against the Long Island Power Authority and National Grid in New York’s highest court Tuesday over whether the power grid operators are responsible for a fire, triggered by superstorm Sandy, that destroyed their Queens homes.

In sum, 180 plaintiffs claim that LIPA’s failure to turn off power to the Rockaway peninsula ahead of Sandy’s storm surge caused the fire. They alleged that saltwater from the surge caused electrical arcing when it came into contact with live power lines, triggering the massive fire, according to court documents.

The homeowners note LIPA cut power to Fire Island and other locales ahead of the storm and contend the same decision should have been made about the Rockaways.

LIPA and National Grid so far have asked — unsuccessfully — for lower courts to dismiss the lawsuits.

They claim they were entitled to “governmental immunity” because they were acting in a governmental capacity in running the grid. Lower courts disagreed, saying LIPA was acting in a proprietary capacity, not governmental, and isn’t immune to claims.

“The provision of electricity has traditionally been a private enterprise in this state, and the (state) legislature clearly created LIPA as a public authority to substitute for a private enterprise,” the midlevel Appellate Division said in a 3-1 decision favoring the plaintiffs in 2016. “We disagree that the magnitude of Hurricane Sandy itself shielded the defendants from having to answer in tort for deficiencies in their preparation and response.”

Homeowners, who say they lost everything in the fire, are seeking various amounts of compensation. National Grid was the contractor operating the grid for LIPA; it’s since been replaced by PSEG Long Island.

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