The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is now facing lawsuits related to the loss of life caused by power outages during winter storms earlier this year. According to the lawsuits, ERCOT failed to protect Texas’s power grid from the risks that freezing weather presents.
The state has previously faced warnings for failing to protect the ability to provide power despite past trouble with winter storms. As a result of the power outages, many in the state faced dangerously cold temperatures in their homes. More than one hundred people died because of the cold and the inability to heat their homes.
Deaths occurred in 47 counties across the state. Some victims died from hypothermia, while others lost their lives from carbon monoxide poisoning after taking desperate steps to heat their homes and cars, such as bringing outdoor generators or grills into their homes. Other victims lost power to essential medical devices, leaving them without options for treatment.
Many tragic losses would have been preventable had ERCOT taken the precautions it had been advised to take ten years ago, following the 2011 storm. Texans should have had power and the ability to keep their homes warm despite the freezing temperatures.
Questions About The Ability To Sue ERCOT
A 2016 lawsuit against ERCOT hit a wall when the lower court ruled that the company qualified for sovereign immunity protections. Sovereign immunity protects the government by not allowing lawsuits against government entities when they are performing government functions.
The person suing ERCOT in that case appealed the court’s ruling, and the case is now going to the state’s Supreme Court. The case may determine whether ERCOT, as a private nonprofit company, is an extension of the government or a private entity. The decision may impact the many pending lawsuits against ERCOT. The company will face far-greater liability if the Supreme Court decides that it should be treated as a private company rather than as an agent of the government.
Potential Limits On Damages
If ERCOT is not part of the state government by extension, there will be no cap on damages in the lawsuits, some of which are seeking up to one hundred million dollars. Estimates suggest that ERCOT’s failures led to billions of dollars in damages, so it is likely that affected individuals will continue to file claims against the company.
If the court decides that ERCOT is protected by sovereign immunity, there may still be ways to recover from the company. Texas law permits individuals to sue government entities for certain categories of claims. The law limits how much a person can receive in damages from one of these claims. For instance, wrongful death claims face a $50,000 cap, whereas some other claims are limited to $250,000 in damages. The difference between the potential payouts with and without sovereign immunity can be significant, both for plaintiffs and for ERCOT.
The Austin, Texas Constitution and “Takings”
The Texas Constitution says that the government must pay people when it takes from them to provide for the greater good. This often applies when the government needs to take property or knock down houses to build a new roadway, for example. These are called “takings.”
ERCOT was controlling some of the blackouts in a way that cut power to some locations in order to allow part of the grid to retain its power. Some lawsuits are arguing that the government’s decision to sacrifice some areas to protect the greater good is a form of taking. If correct, the personal injuries and loss of life may lead to claims under the Constitution.
ERCOT has tried to defend itself against these claims by saying that the smaller, regional power providers were responsible for the rolling blackouts and decided whose power stayed on and whose turned off.
No Immunity For Individual Utilities in Austin, Texas
Even if ERCOT avoids some liability because of sovereign immunity, individual utility companies may not receive the same protections. Regardless of the Texas Supreme Court’s decision on ERCOT’s sovereign immunity, ERCOT and other companies likely will continue to face litigation for their failure to protect Texans from the winter storm, though the Supreme Court’s ruling may significantly affect how those lawsuits play out.
Austin, Texas Wrongful Death Attorneys
If someone’s negligence resulted in the death of your loved one, then you might be in a position to bring a wrongful death claim against the wrongdoer. The knowledgeable Austin personal injury lawyers at Glen Larson Law Injury Attorneys are prepared to help you through this challenging time. We will treat you with compassion and respect while vigorously fighting on your behalf to see that you obtain justice. Get in touch with Glen Larson Law Injury Attorneys by calling +15128830277 or by contacting us online for a free consultation today.