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FARMERS' BILLION-DOLLAR SUIT JOLTS CONSUMERS POWER, STRAY VOLTAGE HAZARD IGNORED BY UTILITY, SAYS LAW FIRM

 JACKSON, Mich., Oct. 27 /PRNewswire/ -- The following was released today by the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based law firm of Marcus & Miller:
 A class-action lawsuit filed today against Jackson-based Consumers Power Company could result in damages in excess of $1 billion. The suit alleges that stray voltage caused by Consumers Power electrical lines has sickened and even killed livestock on up to 4,500 Michigan farms.
 The suit, filed in Jackson County Circuit Court, alleges that Consumers Power has known about the problem since at least 1976 and has failed to take any measures to correct it, despite having a legal duty to do so. In June 1992, a jury awarded a Howell dairy farmer $778,000 in a stray voltage case against Consumers Power. Another class-action suit involving scores of Michigan farmers was settled out of court by Consumers in August 1992.
 Stray voltage occurs when power lines are not properly grounded, resulting in mild electrical shocks to confined livestock through contact with objects such as feeding troughs and milking equipment. Continued shocks can have a serious impact on herd health and productivity. Dairy and beef cattle, hogs and horses are among the animals most affected. Some cases have been severe enough to put farmers out of business.
 Randall S. Miller of Marcus & Miller, the Ann Arbor-based law firm representing the plaintiffs, said Consumers chose not to address the problem. He stated, "A corporate decision was made along the lines of the Ford Pinto cases. Ford decided it would be cheaper to let people die than to redesign their cars. Consumers Power decided to save a few dollars while putting farmers out of business rather than simply correct the problem."
 A 1993 Michigan Public Service Commission report acknowledged the seriousness of the stray voltage problem. It has yet to follow the lead of Wisconsin, the only state that regulates stray voltage, or Minnesota, which has plans to regulate it.
 Attorney Jon Marcus, the self-styled "king of stray voltage," has brought dozens of successful actions against Consumers Power. He expects his current list of more than 200 plaintiffs to grow to at least 3,000 farmers by the time the case comes to trial. Marcus noted that Consumers Power has abandoned its previous policy of blaming farmers' negligence for the problem. He stated, "Now, Consumers is warning its farm customers of the dangers of stray voltage. Basically, they are conceding liability; but they don't want to pay for the damages they have caused for nearly 20 years."
 Consumers Power Company has 21 days in which to answer the charges. Marcus advises Consumers Power farm customers not to sign any release of liability from Consumers Power until they have talked to an attorney.
 For further information, contact Jon R. Marcus or Randall S. Miller at 313-747-7222 or fax, 313-747-7229.
 -0- 10/27/93
 /CONTACT: Jon R. Marcus or Randall S. Miller of Marcus & Miller, 313-747-7222/
 (CMS)


CO: Consumers Power Company; Marcus & Miller ST: Michigan IN: UTI SU:

JG -- DE017 -- 7292 10/27/93 12:28 EDT
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Oct 27, 1993
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