Arundel couple sue BGE over cutoff remarks

Utility lied, defaming them in wake of fire deaths, they say

September 08, 2000|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

An Anne Arundel County couple who lost two children in a house fire last year sued Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. yesterday, alleging the company lied in subsequent press statements about their efforts to resolve a utility bill.

The Odenton-area home of Charles and Dawn Feick caught fire last September after BGE had cut off its electricity for nonpayment - a blaze ignited when one of their four children knocked over a candle he was using to read, the couple said.

The defamation suit filed in Baltimore Circuit Court - seeking $12 million in punitive and compensatory damages - alleges that BGE defamed the family through false public comments that the company had not heard from the Feicks about the bill until two days after the power had been terminated.

Named as defendant along with the company was a BGE spokeswoman, Brenda Pettigrew. Company officials did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

According to the suit, the Feicks fell behind in payments in the summer last year. They made arrangements to pay down the debt, but still owed $169.

The suit says Mrs. Feick called BGE on Sept. 13 and promised payment of the amount owed by Sept. 16.

But on Sept. 15, the electricity was turned off and Mrs. Feick tried, in vain, to have it reactivated, the suit states. That night, the suit says, one of their four sons got up to read by flashlight and, when the batteries failed, lit the candle that set the house on fire.

The suit quotes Pettigrew's statements that the Feicks did not call until after the power had been turned off.

Despite a letter from Dawn Feick to BGE's chairman Nov. 5 requesting a revised press statement that the couple had made attempts to resolve the bill, the company "let the prior statements stand uncorrected," the suit said.

It contends that BGE knew its statements were false and intended to harm the Feicks by shifting the focus away from the company and onto the family as the cause of the tragedy.

"As a result of these false and defamatory statements published by the Defendants, the character and the reputation of the Plaintiffs ... were harmed, their standing in the community and reputation were impaired and they suffered great mental anguish and personal humiliation," the suit states.

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