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 months.
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 practice.”
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 attorney fees.