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Austin Energy, ERCOT sued over February outages that led to woman's death

The daughter of an 87-year-old woman who died after her urinary catheter froze is seeking $1 million in damages.

AUSTIN, Texas — A woman has filed a $1 million lawsuit against Austin Energy and ERCOT, seeking damages for her mother’s death during the February freeze that left millions without power.

Colinda Meza claims her 87-year-old mother, Connie Mae Richey, died from a frozen urinary catheter that resulted from the sustained power outages.

The filing says Austin Energy claimed the outages that began on Feb. 15 would last “no more than 40 minutes at a time,” but Richey’s home was without power for four days.

The lawsuit alleges wrongful death and gross negligence by the actions of ERCOT and Austin Energy.

It said Richey was living with her daughter at the time, to allow her to remain in a home environment and avoid assisted living facilities and the risk of COVID-19. She was receiving hospice care for the purpose of pain medication management, the lawsuit says.

“Prior to the freeze, she was fully engaged with her family and comfortable,” according to the filing. “She particularly enjoyed seeing her grandchildren every day.”

Richey’s family attempted to keep her warm during the power outages, using multiple blankets and moving her bed into a centralized location, as well as burning firewood in the fireplace.

But as more days went on without power, Richey became confused and withdrawn and moaned in pain throughout the night, the lawsuit claims. The morning of Feb. 17, Meza noticed her mother’s catheter was “slushy and bloody” from the freeze, and a decision was made to call EMS.

Richey was taken to St. David’s Medical Center in South Austin but could not be admitted due to freeze-related water supply issues. She was later admitted to Dell Seton Medical Center in Downtown Austin.

Despite the hospital care, Richey was pronounced dead on Feb. 19.

“Contrary to Mrs. Richey’s long-expressed wishes, she died in a hospital in the absence of her family,” the lawsuit said.

More than 210 people died as a result of the winter storms, state data shows.

Austin Energy provided the following statement Wednesday evening:

“We haven’t yet received the lawsuit, but once we do we will evaluate it and look for next steps that are appropriate for the City.”

ERCOT told KVUE it is unable to comment on pending litigation.

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