Cressie Mae Curry woke up to no power in her Henry County home on May 10, 2016. She was recovering from cancer treatments when she started “gasping for air, suffocating and fighting for every breath…”
Paramedics rushed her to Piedmont Henry Hospital where doctors confirmed she had suffered acute respiratory failure and low oxygen in her blood and tissues and determined “she could not recover from her condition,” said her daughter Darlene Sumerlin.
Curry, 64, died 2 days later.
A day before power was cut off, Curry had received notice that her service would be disconnected, her daughter said. Her son pleaded to have an extension on medical grounds. Georgia Power asked for a letter from her doctor, which the family said was sent.
The family has filed a lawsuit against the utility accusing GeorgiaPower of negligence by cutting off the power, which powered the oxygen producing machine she depended on.
“The actions of the defendant Georgia Power Company in cutting off the power to a critical care patient was done recklessly, willfully, wrongfully, unwarranted, wanton and malicious,” the complaint read.
Details about how much was owed are still unclear. Curry’s daughter, Darlene Sumerlin said the retired employee of the Henry County school system had been struggling financially. Her power bill was delinquent, and she was dependent on her disability and social security checks.
On May 9, the Atlanta Cancer Center where Curry had been receiving treatment faxed a letter to Georgia Power, asking them not to cut off power to their patient’s house.
“Cressie Curry is under the care of this practice and is on oxygen. We are requesting you avoid any future interruption in her utility service due to her health status,” the letter dated May 9 read.
Sumerlin said the company acknowledged receipt of the letter. But why was the power cut? She still asks herself.
According to the lawsuit, Georgia Power’s decision to disconnect power was because the account was under a different person’s name (her son), not Cressie Mae Curry whose name was referenced in the letter from Atlanta Cancer Center.
“They killed her on a technicality, without checking the details of the account” said Robert Falanga of the Falanga and Chalker law firm. Falanga said the utility company should have called to verify the conflicting names on the account and the letter prior to disconnecting power to the home.
The company restored power to the home two hours later, but Curry was already at the hospital.
The Georgia Public Service Commission which regulates utilities in the state has rules that utilities must follow before disconnecting power to customers.
According to one rule relating to critical care patients, the commission prohibits the disconnection of power to a residential customer with a serious illness certified by medical professionals.
Georgia Power through its spokesperson said they do not disconnect customers for non-pay who are under a valid life-support status.
The company did not state whether they received the notice from Atlanta Cancer Care, or discuss details of the case.
“While we cannot discuss the specific litigation underway, we are currently considering the facts of this matter and plan to file our response later this month,” said company spokesman John Kraft.
Kraft added that the company only resorts to disconnection if all available options including offering advice on available payment assistance programs and services have been explored.
PSC Rules about disconnection during illness
Service shall not be disconnected for nonpayment of a bill to a residential customer who has a serious illness which would be aggravated by the disconnection - provided that the customer:
- Notifies the company of this condition in writing. You may also notify the company orally, but you must send the company a written notice within 10 days of the oral notification.
- Within 10 days of providing initial notice to the company, a written statement from a physician, county board of health, hospital or clinic identifying the illness, its expected duration, and certifying that the illness would be aggravated by such disconnection must be received by the company.