A heavily contested lawsuit resolved in Riverside County Superior Court on July 7, 2015 for $4,745,000. (Estate of Pablo Padilla Ayala vs. Southern California Edison Company, et al) This wrongful death claim involved a migrant orchard worker who was electrocuted by overhead power lines when his 20-foot ladder came directly into contact with the power line that was located above a row of orchard trees. The incident occurred in July 2010. The defendants in the lawsuit included the Southern California Edison Company (owner of the power lines), the company that employed his supervisor and the property owner. The plaintiffs in the claim included the deceased’s spouse, his two minor children (ages 7 and 9) and the co-worker of Mr. Ayala who witnessed his death. Since the defendants were not agreeable to settling the claim out of court, a jury trial occurred.
The trial was 5 weeks. The jury deliberated for a day and apportioned liability between the electrical company (80%) , the employer (5%), and the company that employed the supervisor (%5). No liability was found on the part of the property owner.
The Plaintiffs attorney argued that the power lines were too low (18’10 feet) and that the power company failed to maintain the power lines at the height required by the Public Utilities Commision which sets the height for power lines at 25 feet. The Plaintiff’s lawyers also contended that the power company was responsible to maintain a 10 foot clearance between the trees and the power lines.
The power company (Defendants) argued that when the power lines were installed in 1946 the minimum height requirement was 17 feet and therefore they were not liable. The Defendant also argued that the employer bore the responsibility for allowing his employees to use ladders 20 feet ladders when the electrical company argued they ladders used should have been 12-14 feet high.
Defendants also tried to minimize the claim of the deceased’s family by stating that the deceased was non-English speaking migrant worker. Defendant also pointed out that the deceased (Mr. Ayala) and his wife and children often spent large parts of time apart from each other. At the time of his death, the deceased migrant worker had not seen his wife for approximately one year.
Defendants also claimed that the co-worker was not entitled to a settlement because he continued his employment at the orchard after the death of Mr. Ayala.
The Plaintiff’s lawyers argued that it is the sole responsibility of the electrical company to make sure that the power lines meet current code. By failing to update the power lines since 1946 the electric company was not compliant with the Public Utilities commission requiring the lines be no lower than 25 feet. The Plaintiff’s also argued that if the electrical company was not going to keep the power lines up to code, the least they could have done was kept the growth of the trees under the wires with 6 feet of clearance as required. The plaintiff”s lawyer pleaded that the value of Mr. Ayala’s claim was not lessened because of his race, his inability to speak English or the fact that his work kept him apart from his family. The plaintiff’s attorney proved that despite the time apart between the couple, the deceased had been economically supporting his wife and children with his income during their time apart.
The deceased’s lawyers had asked the jury award $5.7 million. Defendant’s attorney asked the jury to award $500,000.00.
The details of this claim are of note because it demonstrates the great lengths that must be taken to obtain a settlements in some wrongful death claims. The details of this claim also demonstrate that insurance companies hope that human prejudice (the fact the deceased was not English speaking) and character attacks (the fact that the deceased was not living with his wife for a year and that the co-worker continued to work for the same company after the death of Mr. Ayala) will diminish the value of claims.
This claim also demonstrates that while Mr. Ayala passed away in 2010 the case did not resolve until nearly 5 years later. Because a wrongful death claim may take time to ultimately resolve, those seeking the aid of a wrongful death lawyer, do want to make sure they feel comfortable with the attorney they are going to hire, as they may be working together for some time. Make sure that the lawyer has a good reputation of maintaining communication with their clients. Additionally, make sure that the attorney is comfortable with you, your personal life choices, your family living arrangement and with whatever language you speak. Additionally, since some wrongful death claims, require a jury trial, great costs will be incurred. Make sure the potential lawyer you wish to represent you has the funds to take your case to trial.
This claim also involved a government entity which meant Mr. Ayala’s family would have had to contact an attorney immediately to protect the shortened 6 month statue that exists on such claims.
I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento wrongful death lawyer, specializing in wrongful death actions. I understand that the relatives of the deceased may by experiencing pain and anger over the death of their loved one. I’d be more than happy to talk with you and help you achieve a fair settlement. There is no fee to talk. Our office works on a contingency fee agreement which means that you don’t pay unless we win your case.
My staff and and I are committed to seeking justice for those who have lost a family member. I want you to feel comfortable with the process of hiring a wrongful death lawyer and with the lawyer you ultimately choose to represent you interests. With this in mind, I encourage you to look at what my past clients and peers have to say about me and my team of Sacramento wrongful death specialists. Please look at Google, Yelp and AVVO for reviews and peer endorsements of my office.
Photo Attribution: By Шатилло Г.В. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons