Lawsuit claims gross negligence caused Texas power outage death

Apr 8 14:33 2021 Jeffrey Nadrich Print This Article

The lawsuit claims ERCOT and Texas utilities knew since 2011 the Texas power grid couldn’t handle a severe winter storm but did nothing to fix it.

A lawsuit filed on February 22 in the District Court of Jefferson County,Guest Posting Texas alleges gross negligence led to the death of an 11-year-old boy during last month’s deep freeze and power outages in Texas. The complaint names Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Inc. (ERCOT) and Entergy Texas, Inc. as defendants.

ERCOT, according to the complaint, manages the flow of electricity to over than 25 million customers in Texas, which represents 90 percent of the state’s load. ERCOT’s jurisdiction, according to the complaint, covers over 46,500 miles of transmission lines and over 550 generation units, and doesn’t cross state lines, so it’s not subject to federal oversight or regulation.

ERCOT isn’t required to make sure the Texas power grid meets the basic winterizing standards found in other grids in the United States because it isn’t subject to federal regulation. However, the complaint argues that “just because it is not legally required to” make sure Texas utilities winterize the power grid “does not mean that failing to do so is reasonable behavior. ERCOT failed all Texans, and allowed providers to fail Texans.”

The complaint argues that, after a severe 2011 winter storm, a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and North American Electric Reliability Corporation report “demonstrated to ERCOT and all Texas power providers that additional winterizing of the power infrastructure in Texas was necessary.”

The complaint states the report found that multiple units tripping offline or failing to start during the storm demonstrated that generators failed to adequately anticipate the effect the high winds and cold weather would have, and that thorough preparation for cold weather could have prevented the power equipment from failing.

However, the complaint argues that ERCOT ignored the clear warning provided by the report.

“Rather than invest in infrastructure to prepare for the known winter storms that would most certainly come and potentially leave people vulnerable without power, the providers instead chose to put profits over the welfare of the people, and ERCOT allowed them to do so,” the complaint alleges.

The complaint puts the blame for the recent Texas power outages on the decision not to adequately prepare the Texas power grid for cold weather events, instead choosing to stay almost entirely isolated from other U.S. power grids.

“It is possible to properly winterize natural gas power plants, natural gas production, wind turbines and other energy infrastructure, but providers refused to spend the money to do so, and ERCOT did not require such,” the complaint argues, adding that ERCOT failed to link the Texas power grid with other U.S. power grids “despite the advice of experts.” The complaint also claims that Texas utilities objected to linking with other U.S. power grids.

The complaint claims that the historic cold weather event which hit Texas through the week of February 15 was anticipated by ERCOT and Texas utilities at least one week in advance. The complaint also claims that Entergy failed to properly prioritize areas where residents were most vulnerable to the cold when deciding who to shut power off to: “Hence, there were images of empty downtown Houston office buildings with power, but the [plaintiffs’] mobile home park was left without power.”

ERCOT and Entergy failed to take any preventative action to prevent the power outages, according to the complaint, “and were wholly unprepared to deal with the crisis at hand.”

ERCOT and Entergy, according to the complaint, told customers that blackouts would only be temporary, or “rolling.” The blackouts, instead, lasted for days, and the complaint claims that failing to adequately warn the plaintiffs prevented them from leaving the area or properly preparing for an extended blackout. The complaint claims that accurate information could have saved the 11-year-old boy’s life.

The complaint argues that ERCOT and Entergy “clearly had the ability to warn customers” about the storm and impending, days-long blackouts, but “just chose not to,” supporting the claim with tweets made by ERCOT right before and during the deep freeze. The tweets encouraged residents not to do laundry on Valentine’s Day to conserve power, and encouraged residents to unplug unused appliances, with the hashtag #stopphantomenergy.

Almost 60 percent of households in Houston were without power on February 16, according to the complaint, which states that temperatures reached as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the plaintiffs’ mobile home park. The 11-year-old boy shared a bed with his younger brother, trying to warm him, according to the complaint, but was found unresponsive the next day.

The boy, according to the complaint, “died because grid wasn’t a priority, and the energy provider made decisions based on profits.”

The complaint seeks to recover damages based on the causes of action of negligence and gross negligence.

Negligence is the failure to act in a reasonably careful manner in order to prevent harm from occurring to oneself or others. Gross negligence is essentially knowing that you are acting negligently and continuing to do so while being aware that your conduct is negligent.

Acting and failing to act can both be negligent. One should do what a reasonably careful entity would do in the same situation and one shouldn’t do what a reasonably careful entity wouldn’t do in the same situation.

The complaint claims that the defendants were negligent by failing to warn about the winter storm and the extended power outages it would cause, failing to protect against a the effects of the winter storm, and failing to provide adequate information to customers.

The complaint argues that the negligence constitutes gross negligence because the defendants were aware that their power grid was vulnerable to winter storms because of the existence of the 2011 report.

The complaint argues that the 11-year-old boy died of hypothermia as a direct result of this gross negligence.

“As such, Defendants are not only liable for all damages resulting from their conduct, but are also liable for punitive damages,” the complaint argues.

For more information on Texas deep freeze power outage lawsuits, visit Nadrich & Cohen Accident Injury Lawyers.

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Jeffrey Nadrich
Jeffrey Nadrich

Jeffrey Nadrich is the managing partner of Nadrich & Cohen Accident Injury Lawyers, a California personal injury law firm with offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fresno, Modesto, Tracy and Palm Desert.

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