A civil case involving the brief disruption of electrical service to the home of a Robstown child on life support has been settled out of court.
The Robstown Utility Systems board agreed to pay $10,000 to the family of Isaac Tijerina, while denying any wrongdoing, said Jim McKibben, a Corpus Christi attorney who handled the case for the utility department.
Robstown Utility Systems was represented by the Texas Municipal League and the funds were paid in full to the Tijerina family from the TML's Intergovernmental Risk Pool before the case was dismissed last month, McKibben said.
Three-year-old Isaac Tijerina died at his home April 15, months after the Jan. 4 electrical disruption.
Robstown Utility superintendent Roy Gutierrez referred questions about the lawsuit to McKibben.
"We thought it was a fair settlement and it avoided the expense of litigation," McKibben said. "It's an unfortunate incident. I'm sure the utility system is glad it's resolved and everybody's happy with it."
Isaac's parents, Frank and Ashley Tijerina, sued Robstown Utility Systems for unspecified financial damages in January after electrical service was reportedly shut off to the couple's home, allegedly endangering the life of Isaac, who was on life support.
The Tijerinas' lawsuit, which the plaintiffs withdrew from Nueces County court Oct. 5 after an out-of-court settlement was reached dismissing all claims, said Isaac "suffered physical pain and suffering and mental anguish" by the brief electrical interruption as the boy gagged and gasped for air.
"I think whatever damage he had, if any, was incurred in just the very few minutes when it happened," McKibben said. "The nature of it was we didn't get to the point of deposing the caretaker that was there. My understanding is his equipment had a battery that kicked in whenever the power went out. If the battery didn't work and Isaac had to gasp for air, that would be compensable for sure if the utilities were found negligible."
Isaac was born with multiple birth defects, including heart problems, paralysis from the waist down, protruding intestines, fluid in the brain and a cyst on his back. He had to breath through a tracheal tube and therefore could not speak while requiring 24-hour/day medical attention.
Attorneys Alberto and David Huerta of Corpus Christi, who represented Isaac's parents in the case, said at a Jan. 11 news conference announcing the litigation that Robstown Utility Systems acted "maliciously and intentionally" and "was grossly negligent" when it reportedly cut off electrical power to the Tijerina home at 119 Curtis Place on Jan. 4.
Alberto Huerta said at the January news conference the disruption in service could have killed Isaac, and it was done without giving proper notice.
Neither attorney from The Huerta Law Firm has returned repeated calls since Isaac's death.
Frank Tijerina said at the January news conference he personally paid in full his past due electric bill of $500 on Jan. 3. However, Tijerina said a Robstown utility crew came to his home at about 11 a.m. Jan. 4 and cut off the electricity.
Tijerina said he informed the crew that his son was inside the home and required a respirator to breathe. The lawsuit filed in Nueces County Court Jan. 9 said electrical power was restored after an 8- to 10-minute gap when Tijerina ran outside and showed a utility crewman a receipt for payment of his bill.
Tijerina said the utility department also cut off electrical power to his home for 30 to 45 minutes the summer of 2006, although Tijerina said a medical letter had been on file at the utility office informing it of Isaac's constant need for electrical power to breathe.
McKibben said Frank Tijerina has a history of delinquency with the utility department and the settlement denied any liability, but he said a repeat occurrence was probably less likely.
"I think the account managers are probably more alert for that type of situation," he said.
The lawsuit also said Frank Tijerina "suffered mental anguish and emotional distress witnessing his son's distress while gasping for air."
McKibben said the father's alleged emotional suffering was not something for which he could recover compensatory damages under Texas law.
McKibben also said he did not think Isaac's death was a factor in the case.