Couple sues Verizon over flaming fiber optic service install

Company's installer set apartment on fire

Verizon Communications Inc. is being sued by a couple living near Philadelphia after the company's installers accidentally set their apartment on fire while installing fiber optic service (FiOS).

The September 6 fire at the apartment of Daniel Wood and Dawn Sammler burned all their furniture, a breathing machine and gifts for a new baby girl Sammler had recently delivered. Verizon promised to reimburse all of the couple's temporary living costs and to replace their belongings but has not done so, prompting the lawsuit filed last week in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas, according to their attorney, Andrew Cotlar.

Cotlar said Verizon officials admitted that the installation crew caused the fire when they drilled into an electrical line in the rented apartment. "They were promised that everything would be taken care of and not to worry," Cotlar said in an interview. "None of that has come true. It is appalling the way Verizon has treated an ordinary couple of limited means in order to save money."

A Verizon spokesman, Eric Rabe, said in an e-mail today that Verizon is "attempting to negotiate an agreement to cover the remainder of their loss," after having paid them an initial $1,800 as an advance. Meanwhile, Verizon is providing the family temporary housing at a hotel, he said.

Cotlar said that the family's costs are well over $60,000 and that the landlord is separately making repairs to the building.

Rabe did not say how often fires caused by fiber-optic service installations have occurred, but said they are not widespread.

"The reality is that anytime you drill into a wall, there is a risk of hitting hidden wires," he said. "Our technicians take precautions to avoid such accidents, of course, but occasionally they happen anyhow. We regret it when they do occur, and we do everything possible to resolve resulting issues fairly for all concerned. We do not consider fires started during FiOS installations to be a widespread problem, but, of course, even if such an incident only happens once, it is one time too many."

Verizon began deploying fiber-optic connections to homes on a massive scale in May 2004 and currently has 1 million FiOS Internet service customers in 2,000 communities in 16 states, according to the company's Web site. FiOS TV services are received by 500,000 customers in 12 states, the site says.

Consumerist.com has listed several examples of accidents and fires due to FiOS installations.

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Matt Hamblen

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