FACTS AND ALLEGATIONS On September 15, 2005 at 2 p.m., an accident occurred at the Nelson & Son’s Vineyard. The accident site consisted of three 5000 gallon, above-ground fuel storage tanks. Two tanks contained diesel and one unleaded gasoline. Our client, Mr. Becerra, had been instructed to transfer fuel (unleaded gas) from a 5,000-gallon, above-ground storage tank to a 250-gallon portable tank. No precautions had been taken to prevent ignition of explosive vapors released during the transfer process. The explosion occurred when a spark ignited those vapors as Mr. Bassera was transferring fuel.
As a result of the explosion, Mr. Becerra received third-degree burns over 90% of his body. He was initially treated at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, and then transferred to the San Pablo Burn Unit, where he later died from his injuries. As a result of the extensive OSHA investigation the owners of the vineyard were issued one accident-related violation.
The decedent is survived by his wife, Emma, a resident of Mexico, along with their minor daughter, Ana, and his minor granddaughter, Maria, who all reside in Mexico and had received payments and monies from the decedent’s work in the United States. The decedent’s widow, daughter, and granddaughter brought a wrongful death action against the parties, including the owners of the vineyard.
The defendant/employer argued that the decedent was careless in following instructions and had a package of cigarettes in his pocket as well as other ignition implements nearby, which caused this horrific and preventable accident from occurring in the first place.
INJURIES/DAMAGES – SEVERE BURNS RESULTING IN DEATH – The decedent died within a very short time of the explosion. He received third-degree burns on 90% of his body and died at the San Pablo Burn Unit later that day from his injuries. The estate sought to claim economic damages for loss of financial support based on records that the family was able to provide and an expert witness economist. However, the cost of living in Mexico and wage level is approximately one-tenth that of the United States based on exchange rates and the family would not have been be able to convince a court to reach the $1,500,000 to $2,500,00 level.
The funeral expenses were covered by the employer who also covered various other expenses in good faith. In arguing the decedent’s life expectancy, the estate suggested that the decedent would have retired between the ages of 65 and 70, but that was difficult to quantify since the decedent was a farm laborer and had been for 20 years.
RESULT -The statutory death benefit for the decedent was $160,000. Additionally, it was determined that there were three dependents, Emma (the surviving spouse), Ana (the surviving daughter, who was 16 at the time of her father’s death), and Maria Fernanda (the two-year-old surviving granddaughter). Pursuant to California Labor Code at the time, a death payment benefit shall continue until the youngest beneficiary reaches the age of 18. Accordingly, the estimation was that the minors’ continuation benefits would be valued at $138,088.51. Therefore, the total death benefit in this case for all three beneficiaries was $298,088.51. An extensive structured settlement was worked out, but it was determined that the beneficiaries were willing to accept a lump-sum payment in the total amount of $241,757.24, minus the accrued death benefits which had already been paid.