A jury last month returned a verdict of $19.8 million against Southern California Gas Co. (SoCal Gas). The verdict was in a personal injury action brought by a man who suffered severe burns and brain injuries after his rental home exploded as a result of SoCal Gas’ negligence. The jury found that SoCal Gas was negligent and that its negligence was a substantial factor in causing harm to the 24 year old Plaintiff. A SoCal Gas employee activated an illegally uncapped gas line running into the Plaintiff’s home. His room filled up with natural gas and exploded into flames when he tried to light a cigarette.
The Plaintiff continues to suffer from painful and life-altering injuries brought on by the “extremely traumatic event.” The jury verdict was said to be the largest personal injury jury verdict in history against SoCal Gas. It included about $17 million for past and future pain and suffering, $2 million for past and future medical expenses and $657,100 for past and future loss of earnings.
In 2011, a former SoCal Gas employee named Simon Youde opened a gas valve that activated a gas line running to the back house where Diao was sleeping. Youde left the property without ensuring it was leak-free, ultimately leading to the explosion, according to the Plaintiff’s counsel.
Diao received second- and third-degree burns on more than 20 percent of his body and was taken to a burn unit where he remained for about two weeks and had numerous surgeries. Diao was also diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury that left him with permanent cognitive deficits, according to court documents. SoCal Gas admitted fault in the incident but sought to impose some liability on the property owner. The company challenged the severity of the Plaintiff’s injuries and told the jury Diao should be awarded $1.4 million, but the jury disagreed.