In February 2021, North Texas experienced some of the coldest and most extreme weather it has seen in decades. As arctic air devastated the state, the operator of Texas’s electrical grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), anticipated that electrical power may be in short supply as demand surged to record levels. Millions of Texans experienced extensive power outages. Residents and businesses were without heat or electricity for days. The power outage caused injuries, property loss, and even death. Moreover, certain areas of Texas experienced prolonged power outages while others never lost power. ERCOT’s mismanagement of the power supply during this weather event may have contributed to the significant damage that Texans have suffered.
Unlike many other states, Texas has its own electrical grid known as ERCOT. ERCOT oversees 90% of the electrical grid in Texas. The recent weather crisis has highlighted weaknesses in the infrastructure maintained by ERCOT. While Texas does not typically experience frigid temperatures, this is not the first time that a weather crisis struck the state; ERCOT encountered lapses in providing sufficient electric power to residents in February 2011. During that time, ERCOT performed “rotating outages” due to high usage and malfunctions at many of its power plants. Texas is not a member of a Regional Transmission Organization, which is an independent organization that protects the power supply to residents in the event of a weather crisis.
In general, power companies are protected from civil lawsuits during power outages resulting from severe weather. Most of these liability protections, known as tariffs, are included in contracts that exempt power companies from damages resulting from “acts of God,” however, ERCOT’s power failures during extreme weather have raised concerns that it has not adjusted its capacity to evolving weather patterns and climate change. Texas has experienced severe hurricanes, storms, and frigid temperatures several times in recent years. Updating its infrastructure in response to extreme weather patterns is part of ERCOT’s duty to the residents of Texas. In the recent outage, ERCOT had announced that it would implement rotating power outages to conserve capacity. ERCOT’s knowledge that grid failures were likely due to the lack of adequate reserves indicates that it was not prepared for these events despite the occurrence of extreme cold weather in the past.
If weather-related outages are deemed a result of gross negligence or willful conduct, residents and businesses may have a claim against ERCOT. Failure to properly maintain its system may give rise to liability for losses that residents incurred as a result of prolonged loss of power, including personal injury, wrongful death, financial losses, business interruption, and damages to property. Dozens of deaths from hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning, and burns have been linked to the outage, though those numbers are projected to rise once death certificates are filed. The damage to property, including broken pipes and flooding, is projected to be devastating. The residents of Texas should be able to rely on their power company to protect them during these weather emergencies.
Levy Konigsberg is nationally regarded for its representation of plaintiffs in personal injury litigation. We are committed to helping victims of negligence recover damages and obtain justice. If you have been injured as a result of the power outage in Texas, we would like to help you obtain the compensation you deserve. Please call us at (800) 315-3806 or submit an email inquiry above to schedule a free and confidential consultation.