An attorney who represented victims from the Merrimack Valley Gas Disaster is again waiving his fees for representing clients in the $143 million class action settlement, he said.
Complaints were filed with Attorney General Maura Healey and local officials earlier this summer after attorney David Raimondo told clients he would be assessing an 11% fee out of their settlement checks from the class action suit.
Faced with the concerns, Raimondo previously agreed to waive the fee for those receiving lump-sum payments from the settlement.
On Monday, Raimondo said he would also be waiving his fee for clients awaiting itemized payments. Those checks are expected to be dispersed in September.
Raimondo said clients "felt the retainer they signed was not sufficiently explained to them" when the matter became a consolidated, class action suit.
He assisted roughly 175 clients from Andover, North Andover and Lawrence after the Sept. 13, 2018 gas disaster. However, he said he is not considered "class counsel" and therefore is not entitled to the $26.1 million set aside in the settlement for legal fees and administrative costs.
"I got burned. Unfortunately, I'm not permitted to take fees," Raimondo said in a phone interview Monday, stressing he provided his clients with "personal representation," which included handling claims with insurance companies and public adjusters, contractors and having their gas restored and appliances repaired.
However, much of the work he did was then repeated by class action attorneys, he said.
"Ethically this is the best thing I can do for my clients. ... Waive my fees," said Raimondo.
Clients that want Raimondo to challenge or appeal their payments can still work with him moving forward but will be subject to fees, he said.
"They can continue with me or handle on their own," he said. "I wish everyone the best with their claims. ... And I hope they do well based on what I've done and the information they provided to me."
The average gas settlement payment is $8,000. Eleven percent of that payment is $880.
In a June 24 Sunday Eagle-Tribune article, some victims awaiting payment said they were being asked to pay the 11% fee to get their checks, which are compensation for everything from spoiled food and property damage, to lodging costs, mental anguish and other fallout
State Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, who victims reached out to for assistance, was pleased to hear of Raimondo's decision when reached Monday.
"Nothing can make these claimants truly whole but relinquishing the 11% fee is a significant step in the right direction. I am pleased that full payments of these itemized claims can now be made to those whom they are rightfully due," DiZoglio said.
The gas disaster, caused by overpressurized lines operated by Columbia Gas, resulted in the death of Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence. Three firefighters and 19 civilians were hurt. Damages in Andover, Lawrence and North Andover are estimated at $1 billion.
About 50,000 people were forced to evacuate. Five homes were destroyed and 131 properties damaged, according to findings by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.