State: Utility Not to Blame in New Hampshire Power Shutoff Death

By Kathy McCormack | December 14, 2010

State regulators said an electric utility acted appropriately when it shut off power to a woman who didn’t pay her power bill and died after an oxygen machine she needed stopped working.

The state Public Utilities Commission reviewed National Grid’s disconnection of service to Kay Phaneuf, 53.

She died June 24, three days after her husband found her unconscious, about an hour after power was cut. Police said the bill wasn’t paid. Her account had a medical protection notice intended to prevent such a shutoff in the past, but it had lapsed.

“The death of Ms. Phaneuf was tragic,” the commission report said. “However, the facts revealed during the investigations by the Salem Police Department, the Rockingham County Attorney, and commission staff do not indicate that National Grid acted in violation of applicable regulations.”

The commission concluded there was no reason for it to take any action against the utility.

Patrick Jones, an attorney representing Phaneuf’s family, said he expects to file a complaint against the utility soon. He declined to comment further.

Messages left for National Grid and for Gov. John Lynch were not immediately returned Thursday afternoon. Lynch had asked the commission to conduct a broad view of utility companies’ procedures on power shutoffs.

Phaneuf relied on the oxygen machine as part of her treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The commission noted that the emergency certification on her account had lapsed, that National Grid tried to notify her about it, and that she had not provided an updated certification. The commission also noted that National Grid followed its regulations in taking steps to disconnect the service.

In September, James Reams, the county attorney, said National Grid went above and beyond regulations and bears no criminal responsibility for what happened.

Customers who require electricity for medical equipment can prevent National Grid from shutting off service by sending a letter from their doctor. Under state regulations, customers need to renew such information every 60 days; National Grid has said it gives customers 90 days to renew.

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