DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Families of Texans who lost their lives during the power outages are now suing their electrical companies and ERCOT for failing to keep their power on.READ MORE: North Texas' Real Estate Frenzy Appears To Be About Over, Experts Say
Texans can sue ERCOT, but it is possible that the lawsuits could be dismissed.
That decision, many legal experts believe, lies with the Texas Supreme Court.
Family of 95-year-old Doyle Austin, a Harris County resident, say he died last Tuesday from hypothermia.
The attorney says Mr. Austin was found dead in his home after losing power for nearly three days.
The temperatures outside were below freezing.
The family is filing a complaint against their electric provider CenterPoint Energy and ERCOT alleging gross negligence.
“Next Tuesday would have been his birthday,” family attorney Larry Taylor said. “So you go from planning a birthday celebration to planning a funeral, unexpectedly, it doesn’t it doesn’t sit well with you emotionally,” he said of the family’s loss.
SMU law professor Eric Cedillo says suing the provider may be ok but ERCOT is immune from lawsuits, because of their governmental function.READ MORE: 'This Is A Phenomenal Opportunity': Nico Estévez Hired As New Head Coach Of FC Dallas
While ERCOT is a private company, it is overseen by the state and hence legal experts believe it may have sovereign immunity.
But there’s a 2016 case against ERCOT by a company called Panda Power, which had sued ERCOT for false and misleading reports.
The appeals court sided with ERCOT saying it has sovereign immunity.
Panda Power took the case to Texas Supreme Court. That ruling could have serious implications on the lawsuits filed now.
“They’re making a determination currently in Texas Supreme Court and whether or not you can sue ERCOT for these issues, whether or not they’re entitled to sovereign immunity, or not,” Professor Cedillo said. “It’s a situation that i think a lot of people are waiting on, but if the Supreme Court comes back with, they cannot be sued, then there’s a very real possibility that maybe those lawsuits against ERCOT can be dismissed.”
Legal experts say electric companies like CenterPoint Energy have no legal protections from lawsuits.
CBS 11 reached out to Center Point Energy.
The company said, “As a matter of company policy, CenterPoint Energy does not comment on pending litigation.”MORE NEWS: Texas Extending Emergency SNAP Benefits Through December
ERCOT said, “We are unable to comment on any specific cases. This is a tragedy. Our thoughts are with all Texans who have and are suffering due to this past week. We haven’t yet reviewed the lawsuits in full and will respond accordingly once we do. 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.”