Mountain Fuel Supply Co. has agreed to pay a Salt Lake County woman $10,000 for mistakenly disconnecting her natural gas service for six months.
From May 30 to Dec. 7, 1986, Dianne Chappell had to boil hot water on her electric stove and carry it upstairs to bathe her five children, said her attorney, Bruce Plenk. The gas had been shut off for non-payment of a $981.74 bill owed from before her divorce.Chappell filed complaints with 3rd District Court and the Public Service Commission. State regulations prohibit a utility from shutting off service to a divorced spouse for non-payment of a pre-divorce bill if the person was not the primary wage earner in the marriage.
Plenk said Chappell had notified the company of her separation and impending divorce, but apparently the company's special coding of her account was accidentally deleted when she moved to a different address.
"Basically it was a misunderstanding," said Mountain Fuel spokeswoman Susan Glasmann. "We did not deliberately shut her gas off. We made a mistake."
As soon as state Division of Public Utilities complaint investigators figured out the problem, Mountain Fuel restored service, Plenk said.
Chappell had originally sought $15,000 in general damages, $5,000 for violation of PSC regulations and $5,000 in punitive damages.
Plenk said he considers the settlement a major victory. He said it's the first Utah case he's aware of in which a utility has paid a customer money for its violation of PSC regulations.
But Glasmann said Mountain Fuel views the settlement as payment of damages to Chappell, not recognition of any PSC rule violation. She pointed out that neither the PSC nor the state utilities division recommended fines.