Panish Shea & Boyle LLP Announces Record Affirmance of $20 Million Verdict Against Southern California Gas Company

LOS ANGELES–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The California Court of Appeal has upheld a $19,786,818 judgment against
Southern California Gas Company (“SoCalGas”) for a San Gabriel,
California, man who suffered severe burn and traumatic brain injuries
when his rental home exploded as a result of a SoCalGas employee’s
negligence. Plaintiff Pengxuan Diao was represented on appeal and at
trial by Kevin Boyle, Rahul Ravipudi and Robert Glassman of Panish Shea
& Boyle LLP. He was also represented in the appeal by Martin N. Buchanan
of the Law Office of Martin N. Buchanan.

“Today’s decision affirming the jury’s verdict will enable Mr. Diao to
get the long-term care and treatment he needs for the life altering
injuries he suffered as a result of the negligence of SoCalGas,” said
attorney Kevin Boyle.

On January 19, 2011, a SoCalGas employee arrived at a property in San
Gabriel, California, where Mr. Diao and others lived to service the gas
system. While there, the employee 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. Two hours later, Mr. Diao woke up and
attempted to light a cigarette, causing the now gas-filled room to
explode into flames. Mr. Diao sustained catastrophic injuries, including
second and third degree burns to approximately 20 percent of his body
and was hospitalized for two weeks where he received multiple surgeries
(debridement and skin grafting) and extensive treatment. Mr. Diao was
later also diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury which left him with
permanent cognitive deficits.

At the 2014 trial, SoCalGas admitted fault for the incident but 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. This is
believed to be the largest personal injury jury verdict in history
against SoCalGas, who made no settlement offer at any time during the

On appeal, SoCalGas contended the trial court abused its discretion in
declining to exclude evidence of Mr. Diao’s traumatic brain injury and
that there was insufficient evidence demonstrating the gas leak or fire
was the cause of that injury. The Court of Appeal disagreed, finding
that there was “an absence of other reasonable causal explanations” for
Mr. Diao’s TBI and that substantial evidence presented at trial
demonstrated “it is more likely than not that the gas leak and fire
caused Mr. Diao’s traumatic brain injury…”

SoCalGas also contended that the damages awarded by the jury were
“punitive, excessive, and the result of passion and prejudice…” The
appellate court rejected those contentions, noting SoCalGas waived any
such arguments and, regardless, there is no evidence in the record that
the verdict reflects any punitive component or being the product of
passion or prejudice. Rather, the Court found that the award was not
excessive in light of Mr. Diao’s “severe and debilitating injuries.”

Southern California Gas Company was represented on appeal by Paul J. Loh
and Jason H. Wilson of Willenken Wilson Loh & Delgado as well as Julian
W. Poon and Lauren M. Blas of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

In 2008, Panish Shea & Boyle LLP obtained a $15,000,000 jury verdict
against Southern California Gas Company for a 14-year-old boy who was
hit by a company truck. The firm also represented numerous plaintiffs in
the San Bruno PG&E Gas Explosion cases and is currently representing
Porter Ranch residents against SoCalGas for claims arising from a gas
well blowout at the Aliso Canyon Underground Storage Facility.

Pengxuan Diao v. Southern California Gas Company
Court of
Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District, Division
Case No. B258840


Panish Shea & Boyle LLP
Kevin Boyle,