Elderly man died in frigid home during blackout amid ERCOT, CenterPoint inaction
HOUSTON – The family of a 95-year-old Houston man who died in his frigid home after spending more than two days without electricity or natural gas has filed a lawsuit against electricity grid manager ERCOT and electricity transmission company CenterPoint Energy (NYSE: CNP).
The lawsuit charges that the companies’ neglect of infrastructure, failure to prepare for the predicted spike in energy use during last week’s winter storm and inability to provide services during the resulting blackout are to blame for his death.
Before the power outage Feb. 14, Doyle Aron Austin was strong and in good health, a resilient man born and raised in the historically African-American community of Acres Homes in northwest Houston. During the blackout, the temperature dropped as low as 11 degrees outside and to 40 degrees or less inside Mr. Austin’s home. He was visibly shivering as friends and family banded together to provide blankets, alternative heat sources and comfort. On Tuesday, Mr. Austin was unresponsive and was pronounced dead by emergency responders.
Similar public health emergencies played out throughout the state, although residents of historically underserved lower-income neighborhoods like Acres Homes were among those hit the hardest, said trial lawyer Larry Taylor, managing partner of The Cochran Firm in Houston and Dallas. Mr. Taylor also has deep family roots in Acres Homes.
“This shouldn’t happen to anyone, whether you’re in rural or urban America,” Mr. Taylor said. “This lawsuit is about us getting answers and accountability for people to make sure this never happens again.”
According to the lawsuit, electricity grid manager Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and CenterPoint disregarded recommendations following a federal investigation of similar grid failures in 2011 and 1989. Last week’s storm was accurately predicted days in advance, yet the companies did not make adequate efforts to winterize equipment and activate reserve power. When the grid began to fail, the companies did not manage the blackouts.
“Ample warnings were not enough for these companies to do the right thing,” Mr. Taylor said. “Sadly, we now have to ask a jury to hold these companies accountable.”
The lawsuit is Linda Brown, individually, as next kin of Doyle Aron Austin vs. Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Inc., and CenterPoint Energy, Inc., filed in Harris County district court. In addition to The Cochran Firm, the plaintiffs are represented by Fears Nachawati Law Firm and Watts Guerra LLP.
The trial lawyers at The Cochran Firm filed one of the first known lawsuits in the nation arising from the Texas power outage. Firm managing partner Larry Taylor is recognized nationally as a top wrongful death attorney, and his firm also represents homeowners, property and business owners who sustained property damage or incurred business losses due to the widespread blackouts. For more information, visit https://cochranfirm.com/ or call 800-843-3476.