Irish American attorney Keith Sullivan of Sullivan and Galleshaw LLP is leading the march in a lawsuit against the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) and National Grid on behalf of 120 homeowners, alleging that LIPA’s failure to de-energize their power grid to the Rockaway Peninsula in advance of Hurricane Sandy caused electrical fires that caused irreparable damage to their homes and community.
As a local resident in Rockaway, though spared from the damage of the fires, Sullivan feels a personal connection to the case. “ I live with these clients, I know them and see them frequently. I have a deep vested interest in helping them and helping my community rebuild,” Sullivan told the Irish Voice.
A recent article on Irish Central, sister website to the Irish Voice, reported on Breezy Point resident and volunteer firefighter Kieran Burke, who was one of many who lost his home to the six-alarm fire that spread across the neighborhood as a result of the hurricane. Burke revealed that even though his home burned down due to electrical fires that originated in the local power plant, he still receives utility bills from LIPA.
“It’s infuriating. LIPA burned my house down because of their negligence. Now they’re sending these bills out as if nothing ever happened,” said Burke.
Sullivan, a Rockaway native, said the impending lawsuit was the consequence of LIPA’s “ineptitude.”
When asked why he took the case, Sullivan said, “It became obvious that LIPA and the National Grid did absolutely nothing to prepare for this storm on the Rockaway Peninsula and jeopardized many homeowners’ lives and utterly destroyed the homes and personal belongings of 120 clients.”
“It was a violation of the public’s trust in these companies.”
Sullivan says that in terms of preparedness for the storm, his clients did the best they could do.
“The only thing my clients could have done differently was to have petitioned the governor long before Sandy to break up the monopoly LIPA and Nat Grid have on the Rockaway Peninsula. Barring that, they were left at the mercy and ineptitude of these two giant corporations,” he said.
This is not Sullivan’s first time handling a lawsuit of this magnitude. He says that his “office has gained a tremendous reputation for taking on tough and complex cases that many other small firms would happily run away from.”
Sullivan himself was involved in representing the federal government when 9/11 detainees filed class-action lawsuits against the government and every official in Washington from the president on down. He also handles cases regarding “complex medical malpractice and construction cases,” so to him, “this case is just another welcomed challenge in my line of work.”
A historically Irish American neighborhood, Breezy Point was home to several iconic local landmarks. As a result of the damages, some of the local cultural tradition has been destroyed.
“The Harbor Light, a Rockaway icon, is now gone. This was a cradle-to-the-grave restaurant, as in you celebrated christenings here and gathered here after wakes and for every family event in-between,” he said.
As for the 120 families whom have lost their homes, “Everyone is displaced. Older folks have relocated to Florida and are not sure they will ever return,” says Sullivan.
“Many are living in cramped quarters with family members around the city. A few were fortunate enough to score a rental in Breezy or Rockaway so at least they are close to where their home once was.”
In the aftermath of all of this tragedy, now close to a year without their homes, residents have still not been allowed to begin rebuilding, and many of them don’t have the funds to even start. The response from the power companies in the wake of this terrible destruction?
“They did nothing, said nothing and have never apologized for their actions,” Sullivan says.
Remarking upon the plaintiff’s defense in the trial, Sullivan relates that “they will defend in the face of the indefensible. They will spend more time and money [on] denying liability and hiding their incompetence than they did in protecting their customers.”
In terms of money being sought for damages to the community, Sullivan says, “In excess of $80 million. The true cost of the rebuild is still mounting and every day these folks have to rent to live somewhere else, the cost increases for them.”
In closing, Sullivan claims that “while the litigation will be costly and lengthy, I will not back down nor back up an inch until justice is served.”