A man severely burned three years ago in a natural gas explosion in San Gabriel was awarded nearly $20 million today in his lawsuit against Southern California Gas Co. and the owners of the home where he was hurt.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated for about a day and a half before finding in favor of 26-year-old Pengxuan "Dean" Diao. The jury awarded him a total of $19,876,818 and found that the Gas Co. was liable for about $18.1 million of that amount, said Diao's lead attorney, Kevin Boyle.
The remainder was assessed against Richard Liu and Joanna Cheung, landlords of the Marshall Street home where the accident occurred, Boyle said.
The Gas Co. admitted liability before trial and the jury's only task was to assess damages. The landlords and their tenant, Yong Sheng Li, were brought into the case through a cross-complaint filed by the utility.
The jury found no liability on the part of Li, who subleased his garage to Diao.
"This is huge for our client," Boyle said. "It will make sure he is taken care of for the rest of his life."
Diao, who now lives in Rosemead, was not present for the verdict. Another of his attorneys, Rahul Ravipudi, said during closing arguments Monday that his client suffered second- and third-degree burns over 20 percent of his body, as well as brain damage that will likely cause him to begin experiencing dementia when he's about 50.
"He's not going to succeed at any job," Ravipudi said. "That's part of the circumstances Mr. Diao is going to have to deal with for the rest of his life."
According to Diao's court papers, he was 23 when a Gas Co. employee opened a natural gas valve that activated a gas line running to the converted garage where he was sleeping on Jan. 19, 2011. The room filled up with 300 cubic feet of natural gas and exploded in flames after Diao, who had awakened, unwittingly lit a cigarette.
Ravipudi said Diao achieved every possible educational goal he could growing up in Chengdu, an area of China known for being home to a panda research and breeding center. Diao came to the United States in 2009 to be with his father, a longtime tour bus driver and to enjoy the freedoms the U.S. offered.
"He was a hard worker and a smart young man," Ravipudi said.
Ater he was hurt, Diao could not keep his job at a tea bar because he could not remember the recipes, Ravipudi said. His girlfriend left him, and he is humiliated by scars left from burns on his arms, right leg, torso and head, Ravipudi said.
On June 10, Diao testified that he was in shock after the explosion, which occurred in a garage of a home he rented for $250 a month. He said he initially did not know how seriously he was hurt.
"I just felt my whole body was hot," he said."I was thinking I better get to the front room of the main house to take a shower."
As the water began running against his skin, Diao said, the skin on his left arm "just fell off. I realized my condition was very serious."
—City News Service