The widow and children of a construction worker killed at a wastewater treatment facility in Southern California were recently awarded $16.3 million in their case against the construction company.
In August 2011, Edgar Alejandro Gonzalez was working at the Hyperion Treatment Plant, a wastewater plant in Playa del Rey that handles Los Angeles’ water supply. Edgar was helping to erect a concrete wall panel when it collapsed, causing him to fall 30 feet. Part of the wall then fell on him, resulting in severe head trauma that ultimately caused his death. His family filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Atlas Construction Supply, Inc.
The suit alleged that Atlas negligently caused Edgar’s death by using unsupported wall forms. The improperly secured framework structure weighed several thousand pounds. At trial, the plaintiffs called numerous expert witnesses, including a structural engineer, an economist, and a general contractor.
Atlas argued in response that it was not liable, shifting the blame to USS Cal Builders (the general contractor that transformed the old gas treatment facility into the wastewater plant), the crane operator (that put the form in its place), and the City of Los Angeles. (Atlas was hired to provide plans and specifications for the design and implementation of the form structures.) Atlas called a number of experts at trial, including a crane operator, a structural engineer, an economist, and a general contractor.
California’s workers’ compensation laws provide that those injured while working for their employers may not sue the companies for which they work. On the other hand, they are are permitted to file for workers’ compensation benefits, meant to replace a portion of the injured party’s income, regardless of who was responsible for the accident.
Even if an employer is immune from wrongful death liability, third parties involved and sharing in fault will be responsible for paying the portion allocated to them. Here, Atlas was a third-party subcontractor hired by USS Cal Builders. Since Edgar did not work for Atlas, he was able to sue the company for wrongful death.
Before trial, the plaintiffs demanded $8 million–the defendant’s insurance policy limits–as their final settlement offer. The defendant offered $200,000 during mediation and then raised the offer to $1 million before trial. During trial, Atlas offered $2 million and then, finally, $3 million before closing arguments.
After a 12-day trial, the jury unanimously agreed after one day of deliberations that Atlas was liable. The jury assigned 55% liability to Atlas and 45% to USS Cal Builders. The gross jury award was nearly $27 million. The net amount awarded to the plaintiffs was $16.3 million because the plaintiffs were only entitled to the portion of the award apportioned to Atlas (55% of the total verdict). The plaintiffs could not recover the portion of the award assigned to USS Cal Builders, due to its immunity from civil liability under California workers’ compensation laws. Instead, the plaintiffs can recover monthly benefits from USS Cal Builders. Before trial, the plaintiffs had reached an agreement with the crane operator and settled the matter for $600,000.
The Southern California construction accident lawyers at the Neumann Law Group represent victims of accidents throughout the Los Angeles area. Call us at (213) 227-0001 for a free consultation.
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