Four L.A. residents file class-action suits over DWP billing errors

Los Angeles residents allege in lawsuits that DWP overcharged for electricity and water usage

At least four Los Angeles residents have sued the Department of Water and Power, alleging that the utility overcharged them and made other errors during the rollout of a new computer billing system.

Their complaints are outlined in lawsuits filed in December and this month in Los Angeles Superior Court. In both suits, the allegations are brought on behalf of named plaintiffs and potentially thousands of others billed in error through a class action sought by lawyers. 

If the plaintiffs prevail, they are entitled to refunds plus interest, said Tim Blood, an attorney in one of the cases.

The suits allege that ratepayers were overcharged for electricity and water use following implementation of a new DWP billing system in September 2013. Instead of sending a meter reader to homes, the utility frequently estimated billings, resulting in overcharges, the lawsuits say.

DWP spokesman Joseph Ramallo said managers are aware of the lawsuits and are investigating the allegations brought up in them. The utility acknowledged that mistakes were made on some billings after the rollout.

"Estimated bills found not to be accurate were canceled and we rebilled those customers according to the physical meter data,'' Ramallo said in a prepared statement. "We have been very forthright about the problems with our new customer billings system and we have taken significant steps to fix them."

The plaintiffs' lawyers said the overcharges were widespread and caused monetary loss to an untold number of ratepayers. Outrage over the botched billings, and resulting long hold times on the phone when customers tried to fix the problems, contributed to a changeover in DWP management in early 2014.

New DWP chief Marcie Edwards has since promised to refocus attention on customer service inside the nation's largest municipal utility. In August, she released a consultant's analysis finding that poor project management and an unprepared workforce contributed to problems in implementing the new system.

Ramallo said the DWP has hired 200 new customer service representatives and meter readers to speed service and reduce errors. It has decreased estimated billings from 21% to 5%, and also decreased on-hold times for callers from 35 minutes to less than five minutes, he said.

He asked anyone who believes they have an inaccurate billing to call the utility's customer help line at 1-800-DIAL-DWP (1-800-342-5397). 

Follow me on Twitter at @csaillant2

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times