This past January, a California Court of Appeals upheld a nearly $20 million jury verdict against the Southern California Gas Company (“SoCalGas”). The jury awarded plaintiff Pengxuan Diao this significant sum after he was permanently injured in a gas explosion in 2011.
According to the unpublished opinion of the court, in January of 2011, Diao was subleasing a converted, detached garage. The main house experienced a disruption in gas service, so SoCalGas dispatched employee Simon Youde to restore it. When Youde attempted to light the pilot light in the water heater, he reached around the back of the heater, twisting a valve that he couldn’t see. That valve opened a gas line that led into the garage, coming out behind some cupboards. The line was no longer used at the time and was installed prior to Diao moving into the garage. It was not capped. After fixing the gas to the main house, Youde then left the property without conducting a leak check, which he was required to do. He didn’t realize the line was leaking into the garage.
Diao was sleeping while Youde was on the property and continued to sleep for two hours after Youde left. During that time, about a third to a quarter of his room filled up with natural gas. When he awoke, he lit a cigarette and that’s when “he heard a boom, saw fire engulf his room, and felt a force pushing against him as he ran out of the garage.” Diao ran into the main house to shower because his body felt hot. It was at that point skin starting coming off of his left arm.
Diao suffered significant injuries from the accident. He had second and third-degree burns over 18-20% of his body and remained in the burn unit for weeks undergoing painful procedures including surgical debridement and skin grafts. He went through a lengthy healing process, suffered permanent scarring and will likely have to undergo further procedures in the future. He also suffered a traumatic brain injury, which has left him unable to work and impaired his cognitive functions. It is likely he will develop early onset dementia. In addition, he rarely socializes because of his appearance and suffers from depression.
Diao sued SoCalGas alleging that the company’s “negligence caused ‘catastrophic and permanent injuries’ to him, including third-degree burns, ‘shock and injury to his nervous system and person,’ and ‘physical and mental pain and suffering.’”
Prior to trial, the company agreed that it was liable but contested the extent of harm that Diao was claiming was caused by the accident. The company brought in the landlords as well as the sub-landlord in a cross-complaint. After hearing all the evidence, the jury awarded Diao $19,786,818 in compensatory damages for both past and future economic damages and past and future non-economic damages. The jury found SoCalGas 90% responsible for Diao’s injuries and the landlords 10% responsible. SoCalGas filed an appeal contending, among other things, that that there was insufficient evidence of causation between the gas explosion and Diao’s traumatic brain injury and that the jury award was excessive. The court disagreed on all counts and upheld the jury verdict.
When companies or their employees are negligent they should be held responsible for their actions. At Gilman & Bedigian, we have the experience and knowledge necessary to take on corporations. If you or a loved one has been injured due to the negligence of a company or its employees please do not hesitate to call us today for a free consultation.