Will Social Media Save A Utility From a Lawsuit?

by Carolyn Elefant on November 9, 2012

in Social Media in Regulated Utilities

After ten days without power, Con-Ed’s customers have had enough.  So they’ve done what any cold-blooded ratepayer (and with temperatures hovering in the 40s, these ratepayers are literally cold) in a similar situation would do:  sued the company .  What’s interesting about the complaint though is that in addition to claiming damages resulting from ConEd’s failure to restore power for more than a week, the lawsuit contends that ConEd was also remiss in failing to communicate with customers about the outages.

Yet are these claims accurate?  According to this detailed Huffington Post dispatch , young Con Ed staffers worked 14 hour days, frantically tweeting and Facebooking updates on restoration efforts and responding to irate customers.

Were some ratepayers left out because they weren’t using social media – or couldn’t access it with the power out? Or was ConEd’s social media campaign not sufficiently extensive or accurate to inform its customers? Although class action lawsuits against utilities
face a tough hurdle (most matters are resolved before utility commissions and in any event, plaintiffs must prove gross negligence to survive summary dismissal), the initial pleadings and discovery are likely to shed insight on the effectiveness of social media as a communication tool in times of crisis and as a potential defense to a lawsuit.

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