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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ind. Courts - "Veolia accused of failing to read meters regularly and overestimating usage"

John Russell reports in the Indianapolis Star today on a lawsuit filed yesterday against the company managing the Indianapolis Water Company. Some quotes:

Veolia Water is being sued for allegedly failing to read the meters of its customers at least every two months, as required under law, and overestimating water usage for hundreds of thousands of customers.

The lawsuit against Veolia Water was filed Wednesday in Marion Superior Court by two residential customers, who are seeking class-action status on behalf of more than 250,000 customers.

Veolia Water North America, a subsidiary of a French company, has managed the city-owned Indianapolis Water Co. since 2002. It is responsible for reading meters, billing, and handling service calls, along with treating and distributing water.

In recent weeks, dozens of customers have complained to The Indianapolis Star of overbilling by Veolia Water, claiming the company hasn't read their meters in months, despite a law that requires the company to read meters at least once every two months. The lawsuit refers to Star articles and letters to the editor as part of its allegations.

The lawsuit's two plaintiffs make similar allegations. David Lear, Indianapolis, alleges Veolia has read his meter only twice in the past 17 months and overestimated his usage. Jason Bond, Zionsville, alleges Veolia hasn't taken an actual meter reading at his house in more than five months.

"I think these are very typical stories," said their lawyer, Peter S. Kovacs of the Indianapolis law firm Stewart & Irwin. "I've looked at a number of bills, and it shows a very similar story of overcharging." * * *

According to the suit, Veolia is entitled to earn incentives for meeting certain benchmarks, including customer service. Under the management agreement, Veolia received $9.2 million in incentive payments from the city for 2007. For meeting the "meter reading" incentive, Veolia received $334,976 last year. That is in addition to the annual service fee received by Veolia from the city, which exceeds $33 million a year, the suit said. * * *

The suit accuses Veolia Water of deceptive practices and fraud and seeks up to $1,000 per violation, plus attorneys' fees. The suit said Veolia breached its management agreement by using a flawed methodology for estimating residential customers' water bills, which it said unfairly inflates water usage during typically lower-consumption months.

It also accuses Veolia of unfairly imposing late charges on estimated bills, which in turn "are inflated by virtue of the fact that the bills are themselves overestimated." Late fees are calculated as a percentage of the bill.

Access a copy of the 14-page complaint and 1-page "2007 monetary incentive summary" (Ex. B) here, via the Indianapolis Star website. The 289-page Exhibit A, which contains the agreement between USFiler and Indianapolis Waterworks, is available here, via the Stewart & Irwin site.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 24, 2008 09:54 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts