Sunnova sued by Puerto Rico family for solar panel incident
SAN JUAN – A Patillas. Puerto Rico, couple has sued Sunnova, a Texas-based solar energy company, for product liability after a solar panel at their home broke loose during Hurricane Maria and seriously injured their daughter.
The couple, Michele and William White, and their daughter, Ashley, are seeking more than $22 million in damages from Sunnova for negligence as they charged the company’s actions caused them physical and emotional distress.
The family claims Sunnova knew that dislodged panels of Sunnova’s system posed serious health risks to people and animals exposed to them, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday.
During the early hours of Sept. 20, Ashley White was in her home when one of her home’s solar panels broke loose, flew and went through one of her home’s windows, cutting several arteries including the exterior jugular as well as severing muscles. The injuries resulted in profuse bleeding.
The panel that entered the window of the house shattered, exposing the family to hazardous chemicals that spread throughout the home.
The plaintiffs, who are both combat veterans, began working frantically to try to stop the bleeding by applying pressure and grabbing towels to use as field dressing. With the help of a neighbor, a police officer and a municipal worker, the daughter was taken to the Patillas Diagnostic and Treatment Center, where medical personnel were unable to help her because of the severity of her wounds. The mayor of Patillas, with his crews, cleared the road to Guayama for an ambulance to take her to the Guayama Mennonite Hospital, where she underwent surgery.
The victim’s diagnosis includes brachial plexus and traumatic brain injuries, post concussive syndrome, memory loss, inability to focus and permanent cognitive issues. While she has received physical therapy, the left side of her body remains immobile.
The lawsuit says Sunnova knew or should have reasonably known the solar panel system was defectively designed, manufactured, installed and maintained and that such defects would have consequences.
After learning about the incident, “Sunnova made no efforts to recover, decontaminate or warn of the existence and effects of the Hazardous Chemicals. The exposure to the Hazardous Chemicals cause harm and damages known and unknown requiring medical monitoring of the Plaintiffs,” the lawsuit reads.
Sunnova spokesperson Kelsey Smith said the company does not comment on active litigation. According to the company’s website, its panels last decades and can “even sustain hurricanes.”
“Well, most hurricanes. According to Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), in a study of 50,000 systems, data reveals they stand up fairly sturdily during hurricanes. In fact, those solar photovoltaic systems affected by defective or underperforming panels is very low—just 0.1% per year. In other words, solar panels are built to last,” Sunnova’s website reads.