The single mother of an 11-year-old boy who died during a prolonged blackout at their Texas home amid a freezing winter storm is suing the companies responsible for energy flow through state’s power grid for $100 million in damages.
Cristian Pineda, 11, was found unresponsive in his bed Tuesday after spending the night with his 3-year-old brother in an effort to stay warm, according to Maria Pineda’s lawsuit. Cristian’s mother called 911 after realizing he was not responsive and attempted CPR but was unable to revive the young boy, the lawsuit said.
Now Maria Pineda is suing the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and Entergy, alleging that gross negligence led to the boy’s death and that Cristian died because their “energy provider made decisions based on profits.”
“This young boy first saw snow on Monday, and he died on Tuesday,” Tony Buzbee, the attorney representing Cristian’s mother, told NBC News Monday.
An autopsy is still pending, according to the Conroe police department, about 40 miles north of Houston. Results could take 60 to 90 days, police said.
Cristian showed no signs of medical distress and had no underlying issues before his death, Buzbee said, describing him as a healthy and active preteen. Dozens have died across the country in related to the winter storm, with at least 22 in Texas by Saturday.
Though the Pineda family, like many other Texans, had a roof over their heads, their circumstances were comparable to being homeless during the storm, Buzbee said.
“The misinformation is probably what makes people the maddest, and certainly makes me very angry, because we were lied to about, you know, we're gonna have rolling blackouts,” Buzbee said. “That wasn't what happened at all. It was a full-on blackout, with no end in sight.”
The lawsuit filed Saturday alleges that ERCOT and Entergy told consumers rolling, or temporary, blackouts but did not warn that there might be longer blackouts that would last for days. Without warning, consumers were left unprepared to face multiple days without power, the lawsuit alleges.
It also alleges that Entergy “chose to turn off power to those who were most vulnerable to the cold” because it failed to prioritize areas where residents were more vulnerable to the cold when faced with an energy shortage.
“Power cuts during blackouts came at the circuit level, with many local providers choosing which circuits to shut down and when,” the lawsuit said. “Hence, there were images of empty downtown Houston office buildings with power, but the Pinedas' mobile home park was left without power.”
Buzbee is representing about half-dozen other cases already where families have lost loved ones to the cold allegedly because they did not get accurate information about the severity of the pending energy crisis.
“It’s so ironic to me...Texas is the energy capital of the country, as the United States proudly proclaims its energy independence, that we no longer rely on you know the Middle East, etc,” Buzbee said. “And yet we have people dying in Houston, Texas, in their home because they have no power.”
Entergy said in a statement that it could not comment on pending litigation but that the company is “deeply saddened by the loss of life in our community.”
Millions of Texans went without power as an unusual cold snap pummeled the Southwestern state, plunging temperatures below freezing and blanketing the state in ice and snow. ERCOT, which oversees about 90 percent of Texas’ energy production, cited frozen equipment for the loss of output from its natural gas and some renewable energy sources.
Texas is free from federal regulations because it is the only state to use its own power grid, though it is one of the largest energy producers and consumers in the country. Critics have said that this independence allowed the state to shirk federal requirements that would have better prepared the energy grid for winter weather in order to maximize its profits for private utility providers.
ERCOT has not yet reviewed the litigation but added in a statement that it believes it did the right thing to avoid a statewide blackout. The energy manager cited the fact that 46 percent of privately owned generation tripped offline last Monday.
“Our thoughts are with all Texans who have and are suffering due to this past week,” ERCOT said.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared reform of ERCOT a top priority last week, urging the Legislature to investigate the energy grid service.
“This is unacceptable,” Abbot said. “Reviewing the preparations and decisions by ERCOT is an emergency item so we can get a full picture of what caused this problem and find long-term solutions.”