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ARTICLE ID 195022

$________ – PREMISES LIABILITY – HAZARDOUS PREMISES – NEGLIGENT OPENING OF GAS VALVE – FLASH EXPLOSION AND FIRE RESULTS IN SECOND AND THIRD DEGREE BURNS TO MORE THAN 20 PERCENT OF BODY

Los Angeles County, CA

In this negligence matter, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants, the gas company and property owners, were negligent in causing a flash explosion and fire that resulted in second and third degree burns to more than 20% of the plaintiff’s body, as well as causing him to sustain a brain injury. The defendant gas company partially admitted liability for opening a gas valve without checking for leaks, however, it maintained that the property owners were liable for having an illegal apartment, and in permitting an uncapped gas valve to be on the property.

The 23-year-old male college student, employed as a restaurant employee, was asleep in his home on January 19, ________, a converted garage attached to a rental property owned by the defendant property owners. When the plaintiff awoke two hours later, he attempted to light a cigarette, and caused a flash fire. As a result, the plaintiff caught on fire and was transported from the scene by ambulance to the hospital. He sustained second and third degree burns over 20% of his body including his face, neck, back, arms and legs.

He was also diagnosed with anoxia and carbon monoxide poisoning, traumatic brain injury, and scarring. Investigation disclosed that at approximately noon that day, an employee of the defendant gas company had arrived on the property to service the gas system. While there, the employee inadvertently opened a gas valve that activated a gas line running to the garage, which was neither connected to an appliance, or capped and released natural gas into the garage area.

The plaintiff brought suit against the defendant gas company, alleging negligence by its employee in failing to ensure that there were no gas leaks before leaving the property in violation of its own policy. The defendant gas company admitted partial liability for the incident, but maintained that the cross defendant property owners were negligent in failing to properly maintain and repair the premises and in permitting an illegal structure to be inhabited, and for maintaining and modifying an illegal gas line on the property, which was uncapped. The cross defendants argued that the actions of the defendant gas company were so egregious, that even if they were negligent, the employee’s actions were the superseding and intervening cause of the fire. The cross defendant property owners argued that any liability on their part should be extinguished. The defendant gas company argued that the tenant, another defendant, who rented the property from the owners and sub leased to the plaintiff, was also negligent for failing to maintain the property in a safe and reasonable manner.

The defendant gas company disputed the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s injuries and damages, arguing that the flash fire did not cause any traumatic brain injury while the property owner defendants did not.

The matter proceeded to trial over a period of 22 days.At the conclusion of the trial, the jury deliberated for 2 days and returned its verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The jury determined that the defendant gas company was 90% liable, and the defendant property owners were 10% liable. The jury awarded the plaintiff the total sum of $________ in damages. The damages consisted of $________ for past medical costs; $________ for future medical costs; $________ in past lost earnings; $________ in future lost earnings; $________ in past pain and suffering and $________ in future pain and suffering.

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