Thursday, October 07, 2010

Huitt v. Southern California Gas Co. (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 7, 2010)

Paragraph-by-paragraph, with my contemporary reactions interlineated therein:

"Michael Sean Huitt and Matt Nino (hereafter collectively plaintiffs) were injured while attempting to light a water heater at a construction site (hereafter the school site or school) owned by the Porterville Unified School District (hereafter the school district). After initial attempts to light the water heater's pilot light failed, Huitt decided to bleed any accumulated air in the natural gas pipe. This action caused natural gas to accumulate in the water heater closet. After Huitt sealed the natural gas line, he again attempted to light the water heater's pilot light. The accumulated natural gas exploded, resulting in serious injuries to plaintiffs."

Okay, that sucks.  I'm sure there were severe injuries.  But you were the ones that bled the line, after all.  So I'm not sure how this is going to be an actual lawsuit.

"Plaintiffs filed suit against the Southern California Gas Company (hereafter the Gas Company), alleging that the natural gas that had accumulated in the water heater closet lacked any odorant. Natural gas, in its natural state, is a colorless and odorless gas. Federal regulations require odorant be added to natural gas so that it is detectable by a person with a normal sense of smell."

Oh.  Well, if there wasn't any odorant, I totally get the lawsuit.  You gotta put that stuff in there.  I can see how that'd cause injury.  Now I understand.

"The evidence established that the odorant added to natural gas is adsorbed by new steel gas pipes until the pipes become seasoned (or saturated). It was undisputed that the natural gas supplied by the Gas Company to the school site was odorized properly at the meter, but the odorant was adsorbed as it traveled through the new steel gas pipes owned and installed by the school district."

So there was odorant.  Well, then.  Back to my original conclusion.  Not the gas company's fault that it got adsorbed.  (By the way, today I learned the difference between aborption and adsorbtion.)

"Plaintiffs argued the Gas Company had a duty to warn them that new steel gas pipes adsorb the odorant in the natural gas and, had they known of this fact, they would not have bled the gas pipe into a confined closet."

Uh, no.  Not their fault.  You're the one that bled the line.  If you bleed a line, you better know how to do it right.  Including but not limited to (1) the possibility of adsorbtion, and (2) the fact that you don't bleed a line into a closed closet.  Even I knew the latter.  And I'm a moron.

"The jury agreed and awarded each plaintiff in excess of $1 million in compensatory damages. In addition, the jury found that the Gas Company acted with malice and awarded each plaintiff $5 million in punitive damages."

Nope.  Doesn't pass the smell test.  (Pardon the pun.)  Not psyched for that.

Neither was the Court of Appeal.  Which reverses the judgment.