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To Whom It May Concern:
I am a Class Member to In Re: Columbia Gas Cases, Essex County Superior Court Docket #1877CV01343G (lead case) out of Essex County, Massachusetts. I am objecting to the settlement as I am of the opinion that the Settlement terms are unfair and unreasonable.
From the documents that I have seen, it would seem that the Court is being presented with a settlement that is unfair and unreasonable for three reasons. First, the attorney’s fees represent an undue proportion of the fund. Class Counsel is requesting that the Court award them 16.5% of the Settlement Fund, which equals $23,595,000.00. While I have no doubt that these attorneys have worked hard for their clients and the class as a whole, I do question whether that much of the settlement money should go towards the attorneys and not into the hands of all of us so affected by this disaster.
To put this number into perspective, I looked at the numbers to see how fair or reasonable such an award would be. The gas disaster occurred on September 13, 2018. Therefore, by the time the Court is being asked to approve this award, five hundred and thirty- two (532) days would have passed since the disaster. Assuming that the attorneys worked on this case EVERY SINGLE DAY since the disaster occurred, such an award would give them $44,351.50 per day. Even this number is lofty as I know many if not most of the people affected by this settlement do not earn that much per year, nevermind by the day. In fact, the most recent United States census has the median annual household income of a Lawrence, MA resident at $39,627.00. I understand that the settlement award in daily terms is not reflective on the fact that this was earned by solely one attorney but even separating this number further is nevertheless baffling. Assuming that this daily number is divided among the three law firms, each law firm is asking for a daily rate of $14,783.83 – or the equivalent of 3 lawyers working the case for 20 billable hours per day at a rate of $250. When I see this number, I am convinced that the amount sought by the Class Counsel is unfair to those of us affected by the disaster. I object as I believe that lower attorneys’ fees would result in a greater compensation to the class as a whole. If the class as a whole received more money, that would result in a fair and reasonable settlement award.
Second, some members of the class may deserve a larger share of the fund than the settlement. This class action lawsuit is on different footing that most class actions in that there is a definite and identifiable group that was affected by the disaster. Columbia Gas has a list of names and addresses of
all those affected. For the record, these people were most definitely affected and not just potentially affected. It behooves this class of people to have to write in and “opt-in” to any settlement when it is known that they were in fact affected. The process which has been followed up to this point will leave many who should be receiving some sort of compensation from the settlement out in the cold. A better way, one that is fair and reasonable, would automatically include ALL of those affected in the very list that Columbia Gas has and provide for them in any settlement agreement. I have not seen anything in the settlement documents to suggest that this settlement agreement accounts for every single person who lived in the affected area during the Gas Disaster of September 13, 2018.
Third, the Court in its October 11, 2019, order only allowed for a little over two (2) months for any class members to file a claim. During this time three major holidays occurred. Many people travel during this time and to expect close to 4000 residents to adhere to this short window of time for filing claims is problematic and unreasonable.
For these reasons, this Settlement Agreement is unfair and unreasonable. I am objecting and asking the Court to not approve this Settlement Agreement. I do plan on attending the Final Approval Hearing on February 27, 2020, at 10am.
My contact information, should you need to reach me is above. Thank you for your time.