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Power company's check was partial payment of claim

By Times Staff Writer
Published October 30, 2005

On Aug. 18, at approximately 5:15 p.m., I started hearing loud popping sounds in different parts of my house and the electricity went off. Soon afterward, I smelled burning wires. It was a sunny day with no rain, thunder or lightning. I called the fire department, which said a transformer was on fire in the alley. The firefighters came to my house and found my surge suppressor strip burned and blackened on the top and bottom. The carpet underneath was burned as well. They reset my circuit breakers, but we could not get my living room TV or my Bose surround sound system to come on. Both had been on the surge suppressor.

Within minutes, the power company turned off the electricity that came from the transformer, and I was unable to check the other electronics in my house at that time.

I spoke with the electric company men and firefighters in the alley. This is not the first time that this transformer has done this. Last year the power company fixed it so the transformer could tolerate more, but workers agreed then that it still wasn't safe, just a quick fix, and there was still a heavy load.

My house and two other houses use this transformer, along with a bank, restaurant and other local businesses. My next-door neighbor to the west is on a different transformer and has never been affected. A few years ago I lost a VCR because of this problem.

The electricity was off about 41/2 hours. The next day as I started checking other things, I realized my computer, printer and paper shredder were also fried. I put in a claim with Bruce Allen at Progress Energy. He asked me to fax him a list of the damaged goods and send an estimate for new carpeting, which I did. We discussed the event, and Mr. Allen said that people add electrical products and don't tell the power company, and this is what happens. Shouldn't it take preventive steps if that's the case and make allowances for increasing loads?

In late August, I received a check for $278 marked "In Full and Final Settlement," along with a notice that repairs would be attempted on the damaged items. No mention was made of replacing the burned carpet. There was no mention of doing anything further if the "attempted" repairs didn't work. If this service company is able to fix my TV, does it guarantee its work? For how long? Is this company reliable? Also, I don't want anyone but Bose to fix my surround sound system.

With Progress Energy's check for $278, all I can replace is my paper shredder, surge protector and possibly a printer if I could find one on sale. My Bose system, TV and carpet are very expensive items. I can't replace my computer for $200.

This is wrong. Progress Energy's equipment failure caused this damage, so why am I being penalized? How long is this settlement process going to take? Could this transformer catch fire again as it has so often before? Could it someday cause a house fire? It did burn my carpet. It needs to be investigated to determine if it is safe.

Please excuse the handwritten letter. I would have typed it if I had a computer. Thank you for your assistance.

- Donna Dugan

Progress Energy's Tanya Cisko said you contacted the company's customer service department Aug. 19 to inform it that your transformer had blown and caused items in your home to malfunction. You were told a request for an investigation would be forwarded to the claims department.

On Aug. 22, Bruce Allen, senior claims investigator, contacted you and asked for a list of the damaged items as well as an estimate for the carpet replacement. That list was received Aug. 24.

On Aug. 25, Progress Energy mailed you a check for $278 to cover the following items: paper shredder, $30; Compaq computer, $200; HP printer, $40; surge protector, $8. Later that day, the company received your estimate for total carpet replacement.

On Aug. 26, you contacted the claims department to express your concern about the terms "full and final" that appeared on the check. Cisko said Allen informed you that this language is printed on all Progress Energy checks and would not be enforced while the claim was still being processed.

On Aug. 31, a check for $787.80 was sent to you for carpet replacement. This amount was based on the depreciated value of 10-year-old carpet. On Sept. 30, Progress Energy paid a service bill of $267.50 for the repair of your 36-inch Sony TV. On Oct. 12, a check for $358.02 was mailed to you to cover the repairs of the Bose music system.

While we agree that it's unlikely you can replace your computer for $200, claims amounts are generally based on the depreciated value of an item, not the cost to replace it.

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, e-mail or call your Action number, 727 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request.

We will not be responsible for personal documents, so please send only photocopies. If your complaint concerns merchandise ordered by mail, we need copies of both sides of your canceled check.

We may require additional information or prefer to reply by mail; therefore, readers must provide a full mailing address, including ZIP code. Names of letter writers will not be omitted except in unusual circumstances. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

[Last modified October 27, 2005, 17:06:38]

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