Less than a week after natural gas explosions and fires erupted across three Merrimack Valley towns, the first class action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of victims.

“The gas distribution system utilized by the Defendants were and are poorly maintained, antiquated, obsolete, and highly dangerous,” it says in the suit, which was filed by the law firm Morgan and Morgan. "Pipeline age and material are significant risk indicators for catastrophic gas explosions,” it states. “Pipelines constructed of cast and rough iron, as well as bare steel, are among the pipelines that pose the highest-risk of catastrophic explosion."

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., an attorney with the firm, says he’s been involved in litigation with Columbia Gas around the country. “As they build new miles of pipeline, the same company is ignoring its existing infrastructure which we now know is corroding and is dilapidated,” Kennedy said. “Columbia has experienced one of the worst records of pipeline companies in this country.”

The lawsuit, and others like it, are getting pushback from Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, who said Tuesday that he worries the firms are taking advantage of victims. "I think it's shameful that people are trying to get victims today who are hungry for information ... and they are preying on these people's desire for information,” he said.

Rivera expressed concern that people who sign onto class action suits may be stuck with the law firms behind them, and could give up some rights. "If you participate in a legal process that ties you to a law firm, I'm not sure that you will have 100 percent of your financial rights preserved,” Rivera said.

“We respect the mayor and his right to be concerned, as he should be, about the residents within his town,” said attorney Frank Petosa of Morgan and Morgan. “But our view is it’s never premature to give people the ability to have access to justice and access to information.” Petosa said victims should understand their full legal rights before they sign anything with Columbia Gas or accept any compensation from them.

“It is really important to have independent oversight by non-government entities when these kind of disasters happen,” said Kennedy. “And the reason for that is because there is a collaboration and a relationship between these gas companies and the regulatory officials whose job it is to protect us – to protect Americans – from that company,” Kennedy said. It’s clear, he said, that there was a failure on the part of the utility in the disaster. "But here's also a failure of government here,” he said.

Kennedy said Morgan and Morgan will conduct its own investigation and will inform residents of the results. The firm will host a town hall and public information session about their lawsuit in Lawrence on Thursday.

The suit filed this week is one of several class action lawsuits being pursued by attorneys interested in representing victims of the Merrimack Valley fires.

This post has been updated.