Public utilities provide everyday necessities to residents such as natural gas, sewage, water, and electricity. Many of the utility companies are privately owned. Regardless of whether they are public or private, they have to follow the Filed Rate Doctrine.

What Is the Filed Rate Doctrine?

The filed rate doctrine, as referred to as a tariff, is a public document outlining the:

  • Services of a public utility
  • Utility rates
  • Utility charges

The services outlined in the doctrine are governed by specific regulations, practices, and rules.

What Purpose Does the Filed Tariff Doctrine Serve?

The doctrine serves two purposes. It recognizes the utility provider has the freedom to set fair rates. The second purpose is to prevent customer discrimination.

Do Public Utility Providers Have to Follow the Doctrine?

Yes. The provider must follow the rates, conditions, and terms of service outlined in the doctrine. For example, the provider cannot charge more than the rate listed on file with the federal regulatory authority.

Can I Sue My Public Utility Company?

Typically, no. The doctrine forbids or limits lawsuits brought by customers. However, in many jurisdictions, it is clear whether a public utility company can be sued for gross negligence or is acting in a willful or wanton manner.

What Is Gross Negligence?

Negligence is the unintentional act of breaching the duty of care to someone and causing injuries. Gross negligence is defined as a failure to exercise the slightest amount of care. In other words, it is a total disregard of a person’s safety. 

What Would I Have to Do to Determine If I Have a Case?

First, check with a lawyer regarding your case. The lawyer will:

  • Examine the filed tariff doctrine to determine if it contains any liability or limitation provisions.
  • Conduct an investigation regarding the provider’s standard of care. For instance, if the provider’s actions were simple negligence, willful and wanton misconduct or gross negligence.
  • Determine whether your local jurisdiction has taken a stance on preventing liability claims.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Public utilities are something that every property owner needs to deal with. If a public utility company is acting in a negligent or discriminatory manner toward a property owner, that owner may need to take legal action against the company. If you find yourself being treated unfairly by a utilities company, you should talk to a real estate lawyer.