The family of an 11-year-old Texas boy who died last week after a record-breaking deep freeze is suing the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and Entergy Texas for $100 million.
Cristian Pineda died of hypothermia, just one day after he saw snow for the first time in his life, according to his attorney and the lawsuit filed over the weekend in Jefferson County District Court.
Cristian’s cause of death has not been determined. Taylor Nichols with Montgomery County Forensic Services said it will be at least 60 to 90 days before they have autopsy results for Cristian. She said her office does not issue preliminary reports and they have to wait until all of the testing comes back.
Pineda family attorney Anthony Buzbee told CNN the lawsuit is the first of seven that will filed.
“I think it’s pretty ironic, here we are in the energy capital of the country, in a state that claims its energy independence and we have people dying in their homes because they don’t have power in the fourth largest city in the country. It’s unfathomable,” Buzbee said.
The lawsuit says that ERCOT made the “decision to not require equipment upgrades to better withstand extreme winter temperatures, and instead choosing to operate mostly isolated from other grids in the U.S., left the majority of the Texas power system unprepared for severe winter weather, and unable to deal effectively when Texas experienced severe weather.”
Entergy Texas is the power company that delivers electricity to customers in more than two dozen counties in Texas, including Montgomery County, where the Pineda family resides.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of life in our community. We are unable to comment due to pending litigation,” an Entergy Texas spokesperson said in a statement to CNN.
ERCOT provided CNN with a statement saying it hasn’t reviewed the lawsuit, but “will respond accordingly” when it has.
“Our thoughts are with all Texans who have and are suffering due to this past week. However, 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,” ERCOT spokesperson Leslie Sopko said.
Pineda family ‘huddled’ for warmth
The lawsuit describes how the Pineda family “huddled” for warmth as temperatures dropped to 10 degrees.
“As the storm worsened on Tuesday, the temperatures reached historic lows - as low as 10 degrees in the Pineda’s area. To stay warm, the entire family of five huddled in a single room. Cristian Pineda shared a bed and tried to warm his younger brother, while his mother and stepfather comforted his baby brother nearby. Cristian was only 11. He suffered the frigid temperatures for the entire night, suffering until his family found him unresponsive the next day. The family immediately called 911. The family attempted CPR, but it was too late. (Cristian) died because grid wasn’t a priority, and the energy provider made decisions based on profits,” the lawsuit claims.
Conroe Police Lt. James Kelemen Sr. told CNN the boy’s death remains under investigation and there’s no signs of foul play.
“Since the 11-year-old has not been to a doctor in several years, we do not have any medical history on him,” Kelemen told CNN in an email.
Buzbee said the child hadn’t been to a doctor because he was healthy.
“We don’t have the autopsy results but what we do know is he had no underlying health conditions. He was a healthy child. Whether the cold killed him or played a role in his death, we will know soon,” Buzbee said, adding “All I know for sure is he was a healthy young man and he died because the temperature in his mobile home was 12 degrees.”
Police can’t confirm the boy died from hypothermia. Kelemen said the police department is waiting for the results from the autopsy and toxicology report to determine the child’s cause of death.
“The child was fine when he went to bed but never woke up. We cannot say, at this time, that the cold weather was a factor in the death,” Kelemen said.
The lawsuit also describes “images of empty downtown Houston office buildings with power, but the Pineda’s mobile home park was left without power.”
“Despite having knowledge of the dire weather forecast for at least a week in advance, and the knowledge that the system was not prepared for more than a decade, ERCOT and Entergy failed to take any preemptory action that could have averted the crisis and were wholly unprepared to deal with the crisis at hand,” the lawsuit says.