June 26, 2014 — A jury in Los Angeles, California has ordered Southern California Gas Co. (SoCal Gas) to pay nearly $20 million to a man who was severely burned and suffered brain damage in a gas explosion at his apartment in San Gabriel.
The plaintiff, Pengxuan “Dean” Diao, 26, was injured four years ago while living in a converted garage he rented for $250 per month. A SoCal Gas employee opened an illegally uncapped gas line running into the garage where Diao was sleeping. In violation of policy, the employee left without checking the property to ensure it was leak-free. The room was filled with up to 300 cubic feet of natural gas.
When Diao awoke on January 11, 2011, he lit a cigarette and triggered the explosion. He suffered second- and third-degree burns over 20% of his body and was hospitalized for two weeks, where he underwent painful debridement and skin graft surgeries.
After the accident, he was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury that forced him to leave his job at a tea bar because he could not remember the recipes. He still has scarring from burns on his arms, leg, torso, and head. His attorneys said he will likely experience dementia near the age of 50.
SoCal Gas admitted fault for the incident, but counter-sued the landlords of the converted garage. After deliberating for a day and a half, the jury found SoCal Gas negligent and liable for about $18 million of Diao’s injuries. The landlords, Richard Liu and Joanna Cheung, were found liable for about $2 million.
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