HOUSTON – The lawsuits are piling up against the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and Centerpoint Energy after last week’s winter storm.
As of Monday afternoon, three lawsuits had been filed in Harris County. One of these lawsuits concerns the death of longtime Acres Homes resident Doyle Austin.
“It’s sad that he had to suffer the last hours cold and wet,” said Austin’s neighbor, Dwayne Anthony Rice.
Austin, 95, was a former Negro baseball player. His lawyer says he was healthy, but without power and without heat. The lawyer said he had no way of surviving. The thermostat read 40 degrees inside his home.
The family did everything they could, ”said attorney Larry Taylor of the Austin family. “Wrapped him in blankets and used all available resources to make sure he stayed as warm as possible.”
Taylor believes ERCOT and Centerpoint Energy should have weathered and updated their facilities to prevent cold weather errors.
At the height of last week’s winter storm, nearly 5 million homes and businesses lost power. Austin’s power expired on Sunday, February. 14. Austin’s family found him dead in his home Tuesday morning.
“You have Centerpoint Energy, you have ERCOT – they had plenty of warnings that the nights were in danger during the cold freeze, and they did nothing,” Taylor said. “These energy companies were responsible to the people, and they should therefore be accountable to the people.”
But energy companies can get off the hook because of something called supreme immunity.
“Sovereign immunity exists to prevent the government from not only having to defend indefinite lawsuits at once just like this, but to stay bankrupt in case they are held liable,” said KPRC Legal Analyst Brian Wice. “I think all our viewers acknowledge that something somewhere failed miserably, and people and entities have to answer for the wrong they have done. What I worry about is that it may never happen.”
A spokesperson for ERCOT told KPRC 2 that she could not comment on the details of this case.
“We have not yet considered the lawsuits in full and will respond accordingly when we do. Our thoughts are with all Texans who have and are suffering because of this last week, “wrote ERCOT spokeswoman Leslie Sopko. “Because approximately 46% of the privately owned generation stumbled offline last Monday morning, we are confident that our network operators made the right choice to avoid a blackout across the country.”
A spokesman for Centerpoint Energy said they were not commenting on pending lawsuits.
Doyle Austin would have turned 96 next week.
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