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Texas Appeals Court Allows Winter Storm Lawsuits Against Utility Companies to Proceed

Texas Supreme Court (Credits: KSAT)

A three-judge appeals panel in Texas made a ruling on Wednesday allowing lawsuits against transmission and distribution utilities (TDUs) to proceed in connection with the devastating 2021 winter storm.

The decision was issued by Texas’s 14th Court of Appeals in Houston, which permitted lawsuits against CenterPoint Energy, Oncor Electric Delivery, and American Electric Power to move forward.

These lawsuits allege negligence on the part of the utilities during the deadly winter storm, which resulted in widespread power outages and record-high demand for energy. Thousands of customers filed lawsuits seeking compensation for damages incurred during Winter Storm Uri, which claimed over 200 lives.

Texas Winter Storm (Credits: Bloomberg Law News)

The TDUs had previously argued that they were not responsible for the damages under a state Supreme Court precedent and the regulatory framework governing their operations.

However, the appeals panel ruled that the companies could be held liable for negligence, particularly for their actions in response to the storm. The panel highlighted the deliberate decisions made by the TDUs to interrupt electricity, including rotating outages and cutting power to specific areas.

Texas Appeals Court (Credits: Texapedia)

The ruling emphasized that the TDUs cannot claim immunity from liability for “gross negligence or intentional misconduct.” Plaintiffs alleged specific instances where the companies’ actions directly contributed to the loss of life and property damage during the storm.

According to Ann Saucer, a lawyer from the Nachawati Law Group, the deliberate actions of the TDUs resulted in tragic consequences, including loss of life. Saucer highlighted the conscious decision by the companies to prioritize certain neighborhoods over others, leading to fatalities.

Winter Storm Uri caused widespread power outages affecting millions of Texans as temperatures plummeted below freezing. The event sparked discussions about the resilience of the state’s electric grid, with hundreds of fatalities recorded and estimated damages totaling $300 billion.

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