On November 9, one of the most tragic industrial accidents in California history occurred when a backhoe punctured an underground fuel pipeline causing an explosion and fireball that burned for nearly a week. The explosion killed 5 workers and seriously injured a number of others, as well as causing property and equipment damage. About twenty separate lawsuits were filed in Contra Costa County and were coordinated by the State Judicial Council into one proceeding entitled the “Gas Pipeline Explosion Cases”.
GJEL was appointed by the Court to the Plaintiffs’ Discovery Committee which was responsible for litigating the coordinated action on behalf of all 20 cases. Ultimately, over $90 Million dollars was paid by a number of defendants. GJEL attorneys Luke Ellis and Jim Larsen represented the family of the construction foreman, whose family received the largest single wrongful death award totaling $10.65 Million. This award represents the largest settlement or verdict for a wrongful death in the history of Contra Costa County.
The accident occurred on South Broadway Street in Walnut Creek during the construction of a major water pipeline extension project undertaken by EBMUD. The general location of the underground gas pipeline was known, however it was not marked on the ground surface or properly located prior to construction. The Defendants included EBMUD; Carollo and CDM, the design engineers hired by EBMUD; Kinder Morgan, the owner and operator of the underground gas pipeline that was punctured; Comforce Technical Services, an inspection contractor working for Kinder Morgan; and MCI Inc, the excavation contractor that was digging, trenching and installing the water pipeline for EBMUD.
Over 100,000 documents were produced and about 40 depositions were taken. Additionally, independent investigations were conducted by CAL/OSHA as well as The California State Fire Marshall, Division of Pipeline Safety.
The defendants tried to contend that our client, as foreman of the MCI construction crew, was comparatively at fault for the accident since he had access to the plans which revealed the general location of the underground gas pipeline; he was directing the trenching crew at the moment of the puncture; and his company was responsible for determining the exact location of the underground pipeline before trenching in the area.
The deposition testimony revealed that at the time the gas pipeline was struck, our client ran towards the workers in the trench to warn them. Moments later, he was engulfed by the explosion and fire. He is survived by his wife and two adult children who were the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.