ERCOT Faces Multiple Wrongful Death Lawsuits After Winter Storm Outages

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ERCOT Faces Multiple Wrongful Death Lawsuits After Winter Storm Outages
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The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and American Electric Power (AEP) are facing a spate of wrongful death lawsuits related to state-wide power outages during the historic winter storm of February 2021.

Power outages during this period left approximately four million Texans without power for some duration of time, with outdoor temperatures reaching -6 degrees Fahrenheit in some parts of the state and indoor temperatures dropping below freezing. Hypothermia and the inability to power necessary medical devices were two of the biggest threats to Texan residents’ safety during this time, a concern that is heavily reflected in these lawsuits.

ERCOT is an organization responsible for operating the electrical grid affecting more than 26 million Texas residents.

ERCOT is a private nonprofit corporation supposedly overseen by the Texas Public Utility Commission. ERCOT is responsible for managing the flow of electric power to approximately 75% of the state. When an arctic blast hit Texas on February 13th, residents turned on their heaters to stay warm.

However, in a state that almost never sees temperatures this low, energy providers across the state were not prepared for the sudden demand. To deal with the supply outage, ERCOT announced that it would institute rolling blackouts, leaving certain areas without power for a few hours at a time before power would be restored and the outages would occur somewhere else in the state.

Unfortunately, the “rolling” part of these rolling blackouts proved to be a problem. Energy officials announced that the demand for power was so great that there wasn’t enough energy to pass around beyond emergency centers (i.e. hospital, emergency response centers). American Electric Power is another energy generator and provider named in these lawsuits with the same story.

These lawsuits revolve around allegations that ERCOT and AEP could have mitigated the risk to Texans, but chose not to, resulting in deadly blackouts.

ERCOT and AEP are facing allegations of negligence leading to the wrongful death in lawsuits for several Texas residents, including but not limited to Abelino Guzman and Elzie Ford who became hypothermic in their homes during the storm and died in the hospital, Katherine Birdwell who passed away without power to her oxygen machine, and 11-year-old Cristian Pineda who is suspected to have passed away from hypothermia in his home.

These allegations stem from the fact that ERCOT and AEP regularly anticipates and prepares for energy spikes up to 125,000 megawatts when summer temperatures require massive A/C power demands. This is much greater than the 69,000 megawatts cited as the overload which caused the energy grid to fail.

The primary difference is that these energy providers take the necessary precautions to ensure they are able to meet energy demands in the summer but failed to prepare their systems for predicted record-breaking low temperatures. Had these energy providers properly winterized their systems ahead of time as states with regularly cold temperatures do, these lawsuits allege that the victims’ deaths could have been avoided.

If successful, these lawsuits could compensate the victims’ families not only for any medical bills accumulated during their loved one’s emergency care but may also include compensation for their pain and suffering, as well as the families’ loss of their loved ones. More wrongful death and injury lawsuits are expected to arise against ERCOT and AEP as Texans come to terms with the consequences of the winter storm outages.

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