Family Files Suit Against Tx. Power Companies After 11-Year-Old Dies of Suspected Hypothermia

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Rachel DeSantis
·5 min read
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GoFundMe Cristian Pavon Pineda

The family of an 11-year-old boy who died of suspected hypothermia as he slept in his freezing, powerless Texas home has filed a $100 million lawsuit against the state's power providers, alleging they failed to take action that could have prevented his death.

Cristian Pavon Pineda was found unresponsive under a pile of blankets in his Houston-area home on Tuesday, his family said. They believe the lack of electricity amid the frigid cold temperatures was a contributing factor in his death.

"He went to bed and he didn't wake up," his grieving mother Maria Elisa Pineda previously told PEOPLE. "I said, 'Oh my god, how can this be? God, what am I going to do? This can't be true.'"

Maria filed a wrongful death suit in Jefferson County District Court on Saturday against Entergy Corporation and Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), a nonprofit that manages power flow to 90 percent of the state's electric load, according to the suit, which was obtained by PEOPLE.

RELATED VIDEO: Millions of Texans Are Without Power as State Is Hit by Unprecedented Winter Storm

Millions of Texans Are Without Power as State Is Hit by Unprecedented Winter Storm

More than 2.8 million people were without power in the state as of Monday afternoon, according to PowerOutage.us

The suit accused ERCOT of failing to heed advice to winterize its infrastructure following a previous storm in 2011, and also of failing to properly alert Texas residents as to just how long power outages were going to last.

"I can't even imagine how terrible it is," family attorney Tony Buzbee tells PEOPLE. "You talk about the city of Houston, which is the energy capital of the country. And yet we have people dying in their homes because they have no power. What does that mean? Well, to me it means that we have an incredible failure of leadership and we have corporate America and the power distributors here who obviously are disconnected with what's going on."

Because ERCOT does not cross state lines, it is not subject to federal regulations — so when federal regulators set standards for "winterizing" systems and having sufficient energy generation following the 2011 storm, ERCOT was not required to make the changes, and therefore did not, according to the suit.

RELATED: Why Mom of Texas Boy, 11, Who Died of Suspected Hypothermia Says She 'Can't' Return to Home Where He Died

"Rather than invest in infrastructure to prepare for the known winter storms that would most certainly come and potentially leave people vulnerable without power, the providers instead chose to put profits over the welfare of people, and ERCOT allowed them to do so," the suit alleged.

In addition, the suit also claimed that ERCOT was well aware that extreme weather was coming and failed to act, and that Entergy turned off power to households like Pineda's, which were "more vulnerable" to the cold weather. The suit said that temperatures were as low as 10 degrees in the area.

Residents like Maria and her family were also told by ERCOT and Entergy that any blackouts would be "rolling" or temporary, which prevented them from "properly preparing for the lack of power, or leaving the area," actions that could've prevented Cristian's death, the suit said.

RELATED: Three Children and Grandmother Die in Texas House Fire After Losing Power amid Winter Storm

"I think the power providers were not truthful to us," Buzbee says. "It wasn't a rolling blackout. It was a full-on blackout, and they didn't tell us that. And a lot of the people I represent probably could have done a better job of protecting themselves had they known that this was going to be a true situation where it's going to be three or four days of no power versus six hours of no power."

Buzbee tells PEOPLE that he is currently representing seven families like the Pinedas who lost a loved one to the severe cold, and that lawsuits such as this typically take between a year and 18 months to get before a jury.

"People are pissed here in Texas all across the state. Certainly pissed here in the city of Houston and also in Dallas, and people want answers," he says. "This is going to be an interesting battle, but I think it's one that's worthy of a fight."

A spokesperson for ERCOT said in a statement to PEOPLE that the company is unable to comment on specific cases, but had yet to review the lawsuit in full and would respond accordingly when they had.

"This is a tragedy. Our thoughts are with all Texans who have and are suffering due to this past week," the statement read. "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."

A spokesperson for Entergy Texas also told PEOPLE in a statement that the company was unable to comment.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of life in our community. We are unable to comment due to pending litigation," the statement read.

Meanwhile, the Pineda family is staying with a relative, though Maria told PEOPLE she is unsure if she will ever be able to return to the home where she brought her family from Honduras two years ago.

"It makes me feel scared and horrible that my son died there. I don't think I will ever go back there," she said. "I will look for another place to live and move my things. I can't be there ever again."