$19.8 Million Jury Verdict for Injuries When Gas Company Worker Chose Not to Check Gas Line That Resulted in Explosion

Pengxuan Diao rented a converted garage. An employee of Southern California Gas Co. arrived while Diao was sleeping to perform maintenance. The gas company employee opened a gas valve that activated an uncapped gas line running to the garage where Diao was sleeping. The Southern California Gas Co. employee left the property without ensuring that the line was free of leaks.

A leak in the gas line caused gas to accumulate in the garage. Two hours after the leak began, Diao awoke and lit a cigarette, which triggered the gas explosion.

Diao, age 24, suffered second and third-degree burns over more than 20% of his body, including his head, torso, arms and right leg. He also suffered a traumatic brain injury from lack of oxygen, the concussive force of the explosion and from the carbon monoxide poisoning.

Diao was hospitalized for two weeks in a burn unit and underwent multiple debridement and skin graft procedures. He now has scarring at the burn sites. He also has permanent cognitive impairments, including slowed thought processing, problems with judgment and memory loss — all because of the brain injury. He also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic depressive disorder. His past medical expenses were stipulated at about $129,700. His future medical expenses and life-care costs were estimated to be about $4.2 million.

Diao was unable to return to his job at a teahouse because of difficulty remembering the recipes. His past lost earnings totaled about $36,000 and his future lost earnings are estimated to be at $1.8 million.

He sued the gas company claiming that its employee was negligent in opening the gas line and then leaving the property without first ensuring that there were no leaks in the line, which was in violation of the company policy. The plaintiff was prepared through expert testimony that even had the light switch been turned on or even the garage door opened that either way, the explosion would have taken place because of the amount of explosive gas in the air. Diao and his lawyers also sued the property owners alleging that they failed to maintain the premises in a safe and reasonable fashion.

The gas company admitted fault but argued that the property owners and other tenants were likewise at fault for maintaining an illegal, uncapped gas line. Defense also maintained that Diao was not permanently disabled and would not need as much daily living assistance as he had claimed.

The jury deliberated and found in favor of Diao, finding $19.8 million in damages, allocating fault at 90% to the gas company and 10% to the property owners. The defendants have moved the court for a new trial.

The attorneys representing Diao were Kevin R. Boyle, Rahul Ravipudi and Robert S. Glassman.

Diao v. Southern California Gas Company, No. BC481312 (Cal., Los Angeles Co. Super. June 25, 2014).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling catastrophic injury cases, work injury cases and construction site injury cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Hinsdale, Wheaton, Rolling Meadows, Bridgeview, Maywood, Arlington Heights, Elmwood Park, Melrose Park, Antioch, Lemont, Chicago (Wicker Park, Bucktown, Canaryville, Bridgeport), Grayslake, Round Lake Beach and Tinley Park, Ill.

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