Attorney: Negligence of ERCOT, Oncor led to Nacogdoches residents’ deaths during cold spell


(KETK) – The negligence of ERCOT and Oncor in failing to prepare for the record cold winter storm in Texas last month resulted in people dying, says the attorney of several people who have filed legal claims.

Matthew McCarley, of the Dallas law firm Fears Nachawati PLLC, represents the relatives of some of the at least 20 Texans who lost their lives in the cold or trying to keep warm.

His clients include the relatives of James Harkness Jr., 60, and Richard Woodward, 40, who were found dead in a home near Nacogdoches on Feb. 20. A third person, Deborah Right, also died, in the home.

Attorney Matthew McCarley

During the cold spell, in which temperatures plunged to below 0 and remained below freezing for serval days, McCarley said his Nacogdoches clients were without power and were doing everything they could to stay warm.

“They were really cold. They were in a very modest home — a two-bedroom home that had an exterior porch where they had placed the generator (for heat) and the exhaust from the generator entered the home and they were overcome by the fumes from the generator,” McCarley told KETK News.

“There’s no doubt that it (the deaths) was due to carbon monoxide, all the evidence points to that,” Nacogdoches Sheriff Jason Bridges said after the bodies were found in the house.

“Generators produce a lot of heat, especially off of the exhaust. The exhaust was too close to the wood on the house and burned a hole through the siding and eventually started putting carbon monoxide inside the house,” Bridges said.

“They (ERCOT and Oncor) made a statement that said that the citizens of Texas might see 15 maybe 30 minutes of power outage. My clients’ relatives were without power for over four days,” McCarley said.

ERCOT, which operates the energy grid that covers the majority of the state, and Oncor, an energy provider, exhibited “gross negligence” in not being prepared for the record cold and the resulting increase in energy demand, McCarley said.

“We believe that if they would have taken the proper measures to winterize the equipment that my clients’ relatives would be alive today,” he said. “We believe they are responsible. We believe they were on notice on at least two other occasions prior to this severe weather and they should have taken the proper measures to winterize their equipment.”

The lawsuit notes that when record cold temperatures hit Texas, the supply of energy fell as outdated power generators failed.

“ERCOT and Oncor and others could have increased electric production and capacity in Texas in the days and weeks leading up to the February 2021 cold weather event, but consciously chose not to do so,” alleges the lawsuit. “Oncor and others could have weatherized and updated their generation, transmission, and distribution facilities in order to prevent cold-weather failures like those experienced in February 2021, but consciously chose not to.”

McCarley added: “What I expect to learn is … that both of these entities had prior notice that this could happen and they failed to take action. “

The plaintiffs in the case are asking for $1 million.

McCarley said more defendants could be added to the lawsuit at a later time.

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