A new class action lawsuit has charged two of the Chicago
area’s largest utility companies with improperly adding finance charges and
late fees to so-called “medical payment arrangements” – or special electric and
natural gas bill repayment plans required by the state, should utility customers
suffer significant health problems interfering with their ability to pay their
bills on time.
On Dec. 9, plaintiff John Tamburo, identified as a Will
County resident, filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court through attorney Daniel A. Edelman, of the firm of
Edelman, Combs, Latturner & Goodwin, of Chicago, against electricity
provider Commonwealth Edison and natural gas utility Nicor, alleging purported
billing practices by the utility companies violated the Illinois Public Utility
Act and the state’s consumer fraud law.
According to the complaint, Tamburo at some point suffered
unspecified “health problems,” which, in September, allowed him to qualify for
special protections under Illinois law.
Among other provisions, the law prohibits electric and
natural gas utilities from disconnecting service for at least two months for
failure to pay by residential customers who have a “certified medical
necessity.” The law also requires the utilities to offer the customers the
opportunity to pay back their unpaid bills in small installments.
Tamburo said he received those accommodations from both
ComEd and Nicor, and had an arrangement to repay his past due amounts over 12
However, the plaintiff said, when he received the bills, he
noted ComEd had added a 1.5 percent finance charges of $74 per month, and Nicor
had tacked on late fees boosting his bill by more than $8 per month.
The complaint said ComEd and Nicor informed Tamburo adding
on such charges to the monthly installments were part of the companies’ “standard
But those charges, the lawsuit alleged, are not permitted by
the Illinois law governing the medical payment arrangements.
Tamburo and Edelman said the utilities’ practices likely
mean many others in the state have been similarly assessed finance charges and
late fees. They asked the court to expand the lawsuit to become a class action
potentially involving any customers who made medical payment arrangements with
ComEd and Nicor over the last five years. The complaint does not estimate how
large that number of additional plaintiffs may be.
The lawsuit asked the court to order ComEd to repay the
finance charges and Nicor to refund the late fees. Tamburo and Edelman also
asked the court to award unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, plus