ERCOT, Centerpoint sued for negligence in freezing death of Houston man

HOUSTON – About a dozen lawsuits have been filed so far in Harris County alleging negligence on the part of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and Centerpoint Energy.

The complaints blamed the electric companies for the deaths of Houstonians who froze to death during last week’s winter storms. Officials believe at least 30 people in the Houston area died during the storms. Most dead from hypothermia.

One of the people who died was Gilbert Rivera. The 60-year-old man died alone and in the dark after his family lost contact with him on Monday of last week.

“He lost power. Most of us all lost power, but he also lost the battery life of his cell phone. So he wasn’t able to get in touch with my father,” said Rivera’s nephew Lawrence Ybarra.

Lawrence Ybarra’s father was Rivera’s caregiver. When the family couldn’t make contact, the older man drove to Rivera’s garage apartment near hobby airport to check with him.

He found his brother dead on the floor.

“The problem about losing him is that we didn’t have to lose him if we would have had a power that evening. They weren’t even rolling blackouts. They just straight out blackouts cause he never got power again,” said Lawrence Ybarra.

Rivera’s family is suing Centerpoint Energy and ERCOT for negligence in his death. They allege both entities failed to take necessary precautions to ensure adequate power through the freeze or to alert customers as to just how severe it would be so they could prepare.

They also argue that ERCOT and Texas power companies were warned after a similar paralyzing freeze back in 2012 that the state’s electric grid was inadequately prepared for another big freeze, but ignored those warnings.

“This is actually the people’s lawsuit. Every citizen in Texas, this is our lawsuit. And we need these companies to go before a jury of our peers and for them to explain what happened. That’s what Mr. Rivera’s family wants,” said the family’s attorney Larry F. Taylor.

A Centerpoint spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit Thursday saying the company never comments on cases in litigation.