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 those lawsuits centers around the death of longtime Acres Homes resident, Doyle Austin.
“It’s sad he had to suffer in his last hours cold and wet,” said Austin’s neighbor, Dwayne Anthony Rice.
Austin, 95, was a former Negro league baseball player. His attorney says he was healthy but with no power and no heat, his attorney said he had no way to survive. The thermostat read 40 degrees inside his home.
The family did everything they could,” said Austin family attorney Larry Taylor. “Wrapped him up with blankets and used all resources available to them to make sure that he stayed as warm as possible.”
Taylor believes ERCOT and Centerpoint Energy should have weatherized and updated its facilities to prevent the cold weather failures.
At the height of last week’s winter storm, nearly 5 million homes and businesses lost power. Austin’s power went out on Sunday, Feb. 14. Austin’s family found him dead in his residence Tuesday morning.
“You have Centerpoint Energy, you have ERCOT- they had ample warnings that the grids were in danger during a cold freeze and they did nothing,” Taylor said. “These energy companies were responsible for the people and so they should be accountable to the people.”
But the energy companies may get off the hook because of something known as sovereign immunity.
“Sovereign immunity exists to keep the government from not only having to defend incessant lawsuits at a time exactly like this but to keep from going bankrupt in the event they’d be found liable,” said KPRC Legal Analyst Brian Wice. “I think all of our viewers recognize that something somewhere failed miserably and people and entities need to answer for the wrong they’ve done. What I’m concerned about is that that may not ever happen.”
A spokesperson with ERCOT told KPRC 2 she can’t comment on the specifics of this case.
“We haven’t yet reviewed the lawsuits in full and will respond accordingly once we do. Our thoughts are with all Texans who have and are suffering due to this past week,” wrote ERCOT spokesperson Leslie Sopko. “Because approximately 46% of privately-owned generation tripped offline this past Monday morning, we are confident that our grid operators made the right choice to avoid a statewide blackout.”
A spokesperson for Centerpoint Energy said they do not comment on pending litigation.
Doyle Austin would have turned 96 years old next week.