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Saturday, March 2, 2024 | Back issues
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Texas Family Sues Power Companies Over Son’s Death During Outage

The family of an 11-year-old Texas boy found dead at their home after the power went out as temperatures dropped to single digits in the midst of an arctic freeze sued the state's power grid operator and another company for $100 million.

HOUSTON (CN) — The family of an 11-year-old Texas boy found dead at their home after the power went out as temperatures dropped to single digits in the midst of an arctic freeze sued the state's power grid operator and another company for $100 million.

Maria Elisa Pineda reportedly found her son Cristian Pineda dead last Tuesday under a pile of blankets in their mobile home in Conroe, an hour north of Houston.

Though authorities said it will take several weeks for a cause of death to be determined, the lawsuit claims Pineda, who was healthy and showed no signs of distress before going to bed late Monday, died of hypothermia.

Represented by Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, Pineda’s family sued the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state's electric grid manager, and retail electricity provider Entergy Texas on Saturday in Jefferson County District Court. The complaint was made available late Monday.

Pineda is one of at least 30 Texans who lost their lives as a result of freezing temperatures from an arctic air mass that arrived last Sunday. The storm dumped snow across the state and knocked out power to millions of homes because power plants with equipment not weatherized against extreme cold had tripped offline and ERCOT ordered utilities to do prolonged rolling blackouts to save the grid from a catastrophic failure.

The lawsuit is the first of what will undoubtedly be a flood of litigation against ERCOT from the families of Texans who died last week.

Buzbee is representing seven other Texas families whose relatives died in the freeze.

“The power providers, long before any of us, knew that they would not have sufficient power to protect us and they didn’t tell us that,” Buzbee told The Washington Post. “You have people that died because of that. It’s just not acceptable. We’re going to hold people accountable.”

Not all the Texas victims died of hypothermia.

With people unable to heat their homes with their power out, many found refuge in their running cars where they blasted their heaters and charged their cellphones. Some did so without realizing they were putting their lives in danger.

A Houston woman and her young daughter died early last week from carbon monoxide poisoning after they and two other family members got in their car parked in their garage and started the engine to try to warm up.

Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña said Thursday the department had received 250 calls for carbon monoxide poisoning over the last three days, and urged people not to bring their charcoal grills or propane heaters into their homes.

The crisis has prompted Texas leaders to call for major reforms at ERCOT, which predicted in November that peak power demand for Texas this winter would be 57,699 megawatts, only to see it spike to 69,000 megawatts Sunday, the Houston Chronicle reported.

ERCOT is overseen by the Texas Public Utility Commission.

Comprised of three members appointed by Governor Greg Abbott, the PUC is also under fire amid press reports that it ended its contract with a nonprofit it had hired in part to ensure power companies weatherized their plants in compliance with state guidelines.

Pineda was born in Honduras and came to Texas in 2019 to reunite with his mother, Univision reported.

His family set up a webpage asking for $5,000 in donations to send his body to Honduras to be buried. They had received more than $87,000 by Monday morning.

They make claims of negligence, gross negligence and wrongful death in their lawsuit, in which they claim ERCOT ignored recommendations to winterize power plants after an extreme winter storm in 2011.

Lawsuits against ERCOT may be a dead end for families of storm victims because the nonprofit is protected against them by sovereign immunity, a legal doctrine holding states and the federal government cannot be sued without their consent.

But the Texas Supreme Court is set to resolve questions about ERCOT’s status in a ruling expected this year.

In the Texas high court case, Dallas utility Panda Power says ERCOT fraudulently induced it to spend billions on new power generation.

Panda is challenging an appeals court’s finding ERCOT is “entitled to sovereign immunity in the broadest possible terms,” though it is technically a private nongovernment entity.

Follow @cam_langford
Categories / Energy, Environment, Regional

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