Reliant Energy’s Houston Lighting & Power (HL&P) couldbe on the hook for millions depending upon punitive damagesassessed in a case that has hit the utility with $4.2 million inactual damages awarded to three Texas cities. Lawyers for theplaintiffs last week suggested a punitive award in the range of $40million would be appropriate.

A Texas district court jury found that over decades HL&Pintentionally underpaid the cities for its exclusive right to sellelectricity. Not only does HL&P face millions in punitivedamages after the jury reconvenes Tuesday, the utility could beliable for significantly more as 47 cities, including Houston, aresuing in a class-action case that accuses HL&P of underpayingthem by $113 million. The jury’s findings in last week’s case couldbe applied to the other cities as well.

“I would like to think that the jury would give us everythingthat we asked for,” said Elizabeth Hawkins, an attorney withHouston law firm O’quinn & Laminack, which represents thecities. She noted the fact the jury asked to come back after theweekend to assess punitive damages does not bode well for HL&P.”I think that’s sending a message right there to HL&P.”

A Reliant Energy spokeswoman said the company could not commenton the verdict as the jury is still out to assess the punitivedamages. She added there have been “some inappropriate comments putout there by the opposing counsel.”

With regard to the other plaintiffs in the class action suit,Hawkins said it remains to be seen what the implications of lastweek’s verdict will be. “We wanted the whole class to go, and thejudge made a decision not to. I think the dust has to settle.”

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