On June 25, 2014, Kevin Boyle and Rahul Ravipudi obtained a $19,786,818 jury verdict for a man who suffered severe burn and traumatic brain injuries when his rental home exploded as a result of Southern California Gas Company (“SoCalGas”) negligence. This is believed to be the largest personal injury jury verdict in history against SoCalGas. SoCalGas made no settlement offer to the plaintiff at any time during the case.
On January 19, 2011, an employee of SoCalGas arrived at a property in San Gabriel, California, where 24-year old Plaintiff Pengxuan Diao and others lived, to service the gas system. Mr. Diao is a Chinese immigrant who was attending school in the United States. While at the house, the SoCalGas employee recklessly opened a gas valve which activated a gas line running to the back house where Mr. Diao was sleeping. In violation of SoCalGas policy, the employee then left the property without ensuring it was leak free. Approximately two hours after the leak began, Mr. Diao woke up and attempted to light a cigarette at which point the room exploded into flames. Mr. Diao caught on fire and sustained catastrophic injuries including second and third degree burns to over 20 percent of his body. Mr. Diao was in the hospital for two weeks and received multiple surgeries (debridement and skin grafting) and extensive treatment. Following the explosion, Mr. Diao was also diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury which has left him with permanent cognitive deficits.
Although SoCalGas eventually admitted fault for the incident, it argued that the property owner was also negligent and should be held at least partially responsible for Mr. Diao’s damages. SoCalGas also challenged the nature and extent of Mr. Diao’s injuries and damages, telling the jury during closing arguments that Mr. Diao should only be awarded $1,400,000. The jury disagreed and awarded Mr. Diao $17,000,000 for past and future pain and suffering, $2,129,718 for past and future medical expenses, and $657,100 for past and future loss of earnings.
The trial court upheld the verdict in it’s entirety in post-trial motions, and the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision on January 8, 2016.
Read the Court of Appeal’s decision here.