A judge on Friday granted preliminary approval to a $143 million class action settlement between Columbia Gas and residents and businesses affected by the gas explosions that rocked the Merrimack Valley last year.
Essex Superior Court Judge James Lang said that the settlement “appears to be fair, reasonable, adequate, and sufficient,” according to the ruling.
The Globe previously reported that approximately 147,000 residents and over 10,000 businesses from Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover will be eligible for payments as a result of the settlement, which was announced in July.
A final approval hearing is pending and is scheduled for Feb. 27, court documents show.
The settlement calls for six categories of lump sum payouts, ranging from up to $50 for a ‘‘nominal’’ disruption to up to $15,000 for a ‘‘major’’ disruption, the Associated Press reported. Families and businesses that “suffered unusually high damage” would be able to seek larger payouts.
“Today represents a significant step forward in bringing the communities of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover the compensation they’re entitled to in a timely manner,” lawyers representing the plaintiffs said in a joint statement issued Friday.
The $143 million is part of roughly $1 billion Columbia Gas has dedicated toward recovery efforts so far, according to a statement from company spokesman Dean Lieberman.
“We are pleased that the court has granted preliminary approval to the settlement. As we have said, we view the $143 million settlement as an important step forward as we continue to fulfill our commitments to affected residents and businesses,” Lieberman said.
Injury and wrongful death claims are not covered under the settlement, according to a court document.
Columbia Gas previously settled a lawsuit filed by the family of 18-year-old Leonel Rondon, who was killed when a chimney fell on his car during the explosions, as well as a lawsuit from the Figueroa family of Lawrence. Members of the Figueroa family were among dozens injured in the explosions. Rondon was the only person killed.
Also separate from the lawsuit is an $80 million payout that went to the three communities affected by the explosions.
The explosions on Sept. 13, 2018, forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate and spawned a long-running recovery effort.
Since then, Columbia Gas and its practices have come under review from officials at the state and federal levels. The utility has also been subject to legal action.
Last week, regulators ordered Columbia Gas to halt all non-emergency work based on concerns over the work done on its gas systems following last year’s explosions. The utility is currently reinspecting service lines that it had replaced or abandoned last year.
That order followed a gas leak in Lawrence that caused hundreds of people to temporarily abandon their homes. They were able to return the next day.
In September, officials from the National Transportation Safety Board said Columbia Gas — a subsidiary of NiSource — had a “weak engineering management” system and made several errors in the years prior to the explosions.
Max Reyes can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter@maxjreyes.