July 29, 2019 / 1:45 PM / 2 months ago

NiSource settles Massachusetts gas explosion lawsuits for $143 million

BOSTON (Reuters) - Utility operator NiSource Inc on Monday said it will pay $143 million to resolve class action lawsuits brought by residents and businesses that suffered losses caused by a series of gas explosions in three Massachusetts communities last year.

FILE PHOTO: A sign marks the Columbia Gas of Massachusetts facility after dozens of explosions apparently triggered by a natural gas pipeline rupture in Lawrence, Massachusetts, U.S. September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

NiSource and its Columbia Gas of Massachusetts unit said the accord will resolve claims by thousands or residents and businesses affected by the disaster, which killed one person, injured at least 21 others and destroyed multiple buildings.

The blasts in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover, communities northwest of Boston, occurred while Columbia Gas was replacing cast-iron pipe with plastic lines and prompted large-scale evacuations of thousands of residents.

The settlement is separate from an $80 million accord that the company reached with the three communities in May and a recent settlement between Columbia and the family of a teenager killed during the gas explosions.

The company said the class action settlements require court approval and are part of the $1 billion Merrillville, Indiana-based NiSource has dedicated to addressing the needs of customers, residents and communities affected by the disaster.

“What happened last September was tragic, and we will always be mindful of its impact on our customers and everyone in the communities we serve, including those represented by this settlement,” NiSource Chief Executive Joe Hamrock said in a statement.

The lawsuits were filed soon after the explosion and accused the company of inadequately maintaining its distribution system.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs claimed in court papers the gas pipeline system used by Columbia Gas to service those communities was poorly maintained, antiquated and highly dangerous.

“We believe this settlement will do the most good for the greatest number of affected people and businesses, as quickly as possible,” John Roddy, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

In November 2018, the National Transportation Safety Board said NiSource Inc had failed to adequately draft and oversee natural gas pipeline work orders and those lapses led to the incident.

Federal prosecutors in Boston and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have also opened investigations related to the disaster, the company has said.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston and Arpan Varghese in Bengaluru; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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