9 Investigates: Can you get your utility company to pay when the power goes out?

CARTHAGE, N.C. — Electrical substations and power grids are being attacked in the Carolinas and the country at an alarming rate.

Outages cripple communities and in some cases leave tens of thousands of people in the dark for days.

When the power goes out, food and medicine can go bad, medical equipment may not work or you may have to stay in a hotel if it gets too hot or too cold.

That’s what happened in Moore County last December when two substations were riddled with bullets.

Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke was there when that attack first happened. He recently returned to look at who picks up the tab for the costly expenses to customers during these extended outages.

‘To recoup that is difficult’

Yanni Kakouras lives near Carthage. He and his family were at the heart of the impact from last year’s outages.

“As far as like food is concerned, at home, with kids, everything, from hygiene to what are we going to eat? When are we going to get our power on? Every last bit of it, you start to become very concerned,” he told Action 9.

Fortunately, Kakouras said his family didn’t lose much, but miles away, the popular restaurant he owns was without power for two and a half days.


He says his workers lost money and that he lost food.

“To recoup that is difficult,” he said, especially with inflation. “You have to remake everything. You’re talking pancakes mix, French toast mix, dicing tomatoes, peppers and onions. The whole shebang.”

When the power did return, Kakouras said it created an electrical surge that shorted out some of the equipment.

Utilities responsibility

Duke Energy is like many utility companies. It says it can’t “guarantee continuity of service” and that it’s not responsible for damages caused by outages by “act of nature” or a “third party.”

Even so, sometimes utilities will offer to help. In 2020, during Tropical Storm Isaias, PSE&G in New Jersey expanded its policy so customers who were without power for 72 hours or more could get money back for items that went bad.

In North Carolina and South Carolina, you may not have the same luck. There are no state laws forcing utilities to reimburse you.

You can still submit a claim to your power company and if it’s denied, you can always sue, but those cases can be hard to win.

“It is very much an uphill battle,” said Rich Saver, a law professor at the University of North Carolina.

Saver said you usually have to prove willful misconduct or gross negligence on the part of the utility. He also said you have to consider the policy implications in these cases.

“The more that you impose liability on the power companies, the more likely that they’re going to shift those costs onto consumers,” Saver said. “And so the tension and unfortunate trade-off here is that some customers are left with large losses holding the bag, but that allows other customers to enjoy lower utility rates.”

Taking it to court

There have been famous cases where consumers took on the power company.

A New York case in the 1970s saw consumers win money, but rules left many folks out from reaping the reward.

In the 1990s, a group of Arkansas farmers won a case after claiming a power outage during a heat wave killed thousands of chickens.

Even then, the jury didn’t give as much restitution as the farmers had hoped. The jury ruled the farmers were partially at fault for not having an adequate backup system.

Much more recently, New York residents sued the Long Island Power Authority over Hurricane Sandy power failures, and a Texas family sued two utilities for outages during freezing temperatures that allegedly led to an 11-year-old’s death.

At last check, both of those cases were still ongoing.


  • Always have a plan for your food, medicine, water, batteries and similar items, in case the power goes out.
  • If the power does go out and that costs you money, ask the utility to reimburse you.
  • If that doesn’t work, try your homeowners -- or renters -- insurance. As long as it’s classified as an “insured event” -- like a fire or windstorm -- your policy probably covers food spoilage, a hotel room or lost business. You may have to ask your insurer if a shooter or rolling blackouts count as an insured events.

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