Gusher of Water Complaints in Las Vegas

     LAS VEGAS (CN) – Defective radio-equipped water meters – installed for $38 million – overcharged customers, who had to pay again to replace them, a class action claims in Clark County Court.
     Jeffrey Welted et al. claim in their May 26 lawsuit that Las Vegas Valley Water District defrauded them by overbilling, then made them foot the bill for meters that worked.
     Welted claims that in 2002, looking for ways to reduce the cost of manually checking residential water meters, the district agreed to buy a “Firefly” automated meter-reading system from Datamatic.
     The system took hourly usage readings and broadcast them via radio transmitter to a Datamatic Roadrunner device. The district downloaded the information to compute monthly bills.
     Datamatic is not a party to the complaint.
     The water district spent $38 million installing the Firefly system on about 385,000 Las Vegas-area residences, Welted says.
     Soon, it “became clear that the Firefly AMRs [automated meter readers] did not function as intended” and “over-reported water usage by customers,” Welted claims.
     “We’ve seen ranges varying in the hundreds to thousands of dollars,” class attorney Justin C. Jones said. “We’ve seen people’s bills go from $60 per month to several hundred.”
     Jones said all of the water meters at issue were installed on residential properties, and a large percentage of them were defective.
     “Other jurisdictions saw about 40 percent of the devices were defective,” Jones said.
     Welted says some of the automated readers falsely reported no water use for days, weeks or months for some residences.
     When the water district realized that some residences were not being reported, it manually checked the meters and billed them for multiple months, and because the district uses tiered rates, it charged them higher rates than it should have, the class claims.
     And, Welted says, though the district knew the Firefly system was malfunctioning, it continued installing them and continued charging customers for water they did not use.
     In 2013, Welted claims, the district paid another company $18 million to replace the defective meters. And instead of charging Datamatic, Welted says, the “full cost” of replacing them “will be passed along to the very same customers who were overcharged … for water service.”
     Jones said Datamatic declared bankruptcy in 2013.
     Welted seeks class certification and compensatory and punitive damages for fraud, bad faith, intentional and negligent misrepresentation and unjust enrichment.
     Water district officials could not be reached for comment.
     Jones is with Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Shulman & Rabkin.
     It’s not the water district’s first go-round in court this year. Its former comptroller sued the district in March, claiming it fired him for refusing to falsify reports to make it look like $80 million in land purchases were turning profits rather than large losses .
     And on March 25, a senior employee claimed the district fired her and 16 others on pretexts, to try to cover up the botched overspending on the $80 million land purchases and the water meters that are at the heart of the new case.
     The plaintiff in that case, Lyndalou Ballard, claimed the automated meter readers “never worked” and were “a complete and utter failure.”