Veteran’s Hypothermia Death Blamed on Utility

     PONTIAC, Mich. (CN) – A senior citizen froze to death at home because a Michigan utility shut off his heat, the man’s daughter claims in court.
     John Skelley was 69 and battling throat cancer when he died four months ago from hypothermia, according to the May 6 complaint his estate, represented by Freya Keener, filed in Oakland County Circuit Court.
     Though the complaint does not include these details, a report by Fox 2 on Skelley’s Jan. 19 death says Keener identified herself as Skelley’s daughter and said Skelley was a veteran of the Vietnam War.
     Keener says Consumers Energy Co., the public utility that provides natural gas and electricity to millions of Michigan residents, began restricting the flow of heat to Skelley’s Hazel Park home “several days prior” to his death.
     Calling it “deliberately indifferent, callous and reckless” to terminate the heat in Skelley’s home, Keener points to the Michigan Public Service Commission’s Consumer Standards and Billing Practices for Electric and Gas Residential Service Rules 460.101.
     Consumers had a duty, the 10-page complaint alleges, to interview Skelley “to determine that he was of sound mind and was aware that the bills had not been paid, and that the failure to do so would result in the termination of services in the middle of winter, which may result in complete cessation of heat to his home.”
     Fox 2 had reported that Skelley “was found wrapped in blankets and unresponsive.” The article quotes a representative with Consumers Energy as saying that Skelley’s roommate had “worked out a payment plan with the gas company in the fall but neglected to pay the remainder of the bill.”
     Consumers cut of the home’s heat on Jan. 19 after three notices in December went unanswered, according to the article.
     But Keener says Consumers was negligent in failing to have personal contact with Skelley “to advise him that the heat would be terminated, and that a result of such termination could result in lethal conditions.”
     Consumers should have maintained policies “whereby electricity to city residents 65 years or older would not be limited or turned off during the winter months,” the complaint states.
     According to Accuweather.com, the average low temperature for the Detroit area in January 2015 was just 20 degrees with nightly lows in the single digits.
     Skelley’s estate seeks punitive damages for negligence and emotional distress.
     She is represented by April Nason with Fieger, Fieger, Kenney, & Harrington in Southfield, Mich.

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