Skip to content

Res Ipsa Loquitor

“Res Ipsa Loquitor” is one of those legal doctrines we learn about in law school, but never or, hardly ever, run into in the real world. This explanation from Wikipedia will do:

In the common law of torts, res ipsa loquitur (Latin for “the thing speaks for itself”) is a doctrine that infers negligence from the very nature of an accident or injury in the absence of direct evidence on how any defendant behaved. Although modern formulations differ by jurisdiction, common law originally stated that the accident must satisfy the necessary elements of negligence: duty, breach of duty, causation, and injury. In res ipsa loquitur, the elements of duty of care, breach and causation are inferred from an injury that does not ordinarily occur without negligence.


The injury is of the kind that does not ordinarily occur without negligence.

The injury is caused by an agency or instrumentality within the exclusive control of the defendant.

The injury-causing accident is not by any voluntary action or contribution on the part of the plaintiff.

The defendant’s non-negligent explanation does not completely explain plaintiff’s injury.

The doctrine isn’t necessarily applicable in cases of criminal corruption, but I think it’s somewhat translatable to the political world, in that if it’s core requirements are satisfied, we can assume corruption.

So, I submit that we can apply these principles and conclude that there is corruption at work here:

In the midst of the disaster in Puerto Rico, it appears that someone may have engaged in graft as large as the hurricane that hit the island. Like other electrical utilities, the state-owned Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority has multiple mutual-aid agreements with other utilities. It can call on these agreements for help in repairing the power grid in an emergency. These are the same kind of arrangements that allowed utilities in Florida to get power there restored so quickly following the passage of Irma. But even though 79 percent of the island remains without power, PREPA isn’t calling on those agreements.

A constellation of companies, including those controlled by Tesla’s Elon Musk, have offered to work with Puerto Rico to transform the island into a model for the nation using a series of micro-grids, distributed solar, and local storage. The resulting system would be clean, flexible, and resistant to large-scale failure. But, so far at least, none of those companies have the nod to proceed.

Instead, PREPA has awarded $300 million to Whitefish Energy. If that name is unfamiliar, it’s for a good reason.

For the sprawling effort to restore Puerto Rico’s crippled electrical grid, the territory’s state-owned utility has turned to a two-year-old company from Montana that had just two full-time employees on the day Hurricane Maria made landfall.

A company with no equipment, no experience, and no employees landed the job of restoring an electrical grid for an island of three and a half million Americans because … honestly, no one knows the answer. But they’re looking:

The unusual decision to instead hire a tiny for-profit company is drawing scrutiny from Congress and comes amid concerns about bankrupt Puerto Rico’s spending as it seeks to provide relief to its 3.4 million residents, the great majority of whom remain without power a month after the storm.

So far there seems to be only one clue: The two-person firm is headquartered in Whitefish, Montana. Which happens to be the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

The thing speaks for itself, doesn’t it? All the elements are satisfied, because the “defendant’s” non-corrupt explanation doesn’t hold water:

Whitefish officials have said that the company’s expertise in mountainous areas makes it well suited for the work and that it jumped at the chance when other firms were hesitating over concerns about payment. The company acknowledges it had only two full-time employees when Maria struck but says its business model calls for ramping up rapidly by hiring workers on short-term contracts.

But whatever “experience” Whitefish may have is entirely with the linemen that it’s been hiring at a rate of 10 to 20 per week since landing the contract. Whitefish Energy isn’t a utility firm, it’s just a hiring desk located over three thousand miles from the place where the workers are needed.

With Puerto Rico’s finances in tatters and the electrical grid shattered, why not call on the existing aid agreements? And why drop a mound of money on a firm that hasn’t responded to a hurricane, hasn’t worked in Puerto Rico, and actually has zero experience in repairing a failed electrical grid.

And then there’s this:

Before getting this contract, Whitefish’s largest contract was to install a single electrical line less than five miles long.

You can’t make this stuff up, because if you just made it up, it would be dismissed as too improbable for good fiction. Welcome to the kleptocracy. The people of Puerto Rico can at least take cold comfort from the fact that the next time a climate change enhanced hurricane hits the island, they won’t lose power, because they won’t have any to lose.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared.