In January 2020, Richard DiCorrado and Dan McKenzie represented Defendants Gilliam & Sons, Inc. (“GSI”) and Jeff Johnson in a 2+ week jury trial in the downtown Bakersfield Courthouse of the Kern County Superior Court. GSI and Johnson were being sued by Plaintiff Joseph Chaidez for negligence in connection with injuries he sustained in a trench cave-in at a construction site on March 30, 2015.
At the time of the cave-in, Chaidez was working for the City of Bakersfield on a project to extend an underground sewer line at an outdoor sports complex by several hundred feet. The City retained GSI to dig a trench so Chaidez and other City workers could install the sewer line. Johnson, a GSI employee, dug the trench with an excavator. After digging a portion of the trench, Johnson was driving his excavator to hook up a trench shield to install in the trench. Unfortunately, Johnson never had the opportunity to install the trench shield. As Johnson was in the process of connecting the shield to his excavator, Plaintiff and another City worker went inside the trench without authorization. The trench caved in onto Plaintiff, burying him alive.
While Plaintiff was fortunately dug out in time to save his life, he allegedly sustained catastrophic and permanent injuries. The most serious of the physical injuries were a shattered pelvis and a severed urethra. The shattered pelvis took several months to heal, and required metal internal fixation hardware to be permanently installed. Plaintiff claimed he still suffers pain and limited range-of-motion due to the pelvic injury. The severed urethra required catheterization for several months. The urethra was ultimately reconstructed, thus allowing normal urination, but Plaintiff alleged that he still suffers from permanent urinary and sexual dysfunction as a result of the injury. In addition to these injuries, Plaintiff also alleged he suffered from ongoing and debilitating PTSD, causing a host of psychological and emotional problems. He also alleged injuries to his left shoulder, knee, and ankle.
Plaintiff sued GSI and Johnson for negligence. Among other things, Plaintiff alleged that GSI was negligent for failure to properly train Johnson and allegedly misleading the City regarding GSI’s lack of experience with trench shields. Plaintiff sued Johnson for alleged OSHA violations in how he dug the trench, and for allegedly parking the excavator too close to the trench so that the weight and vibrations from the excavator actually caused the trench to cave-in on Chaidez. GSI and Johnson denied all these allegations, and contended that the accident was solely caused by Plaintiff going into the trench before the trench shield was in place. GSI and Johnson contended this was the fault of the City for failure to properly train and supervise Plaintiff, or the fault of Plaintiff himself for failure to follow his safety training.
The case dragged on for over 4.5 years due to various issues including Plaintiff’s ongoing treatment during that time period. The parties attended multiple mediations/settlement conferences, without any resolution. In December 2018, GSI and Johnson served Plaintiff’s attorneys with a “998” statutory settlement offer of $500,001. In December 2019, GSI and Johnson served Plaintiff’s attorneys with an increased “998” statutory settlement offer of $1.5 million. Plaintiff initially demanded $9,999,999, but later increased his demand to $15 million, which was the last settlement demand communicated.
Also of note, Plaintiff was represented by Daniel Rodriguez of Rodriguez & Associates. Mr. Rodriguez is a well-known personal injury trial attorney, particularly in the Bakersfield area where he has his office and has obtained multiple 7- and 8-figure verdicts and settlements. Less than one month before Plaintiff’s trial, Mr. Rodriguez obtained a jury verdict in excess of $70,000,000 in the same exact courtroom. That verdict was reported to be the largest personal injury verdict in the history of Kern County.
Trial commenced on January 13, 2020. The parties underwent 4 days of jury selection and 5 days of witness testimony and closing arguments over the course of 2+ weeks. During trial, Plaintiff’s safety expert conceded on cross-examination that neither GSI nor Johnson had any duty to train or supervise Plaintiff. Further, the City’s supervisor admitted on cross-examination that the City ran this project, and that no City employee should have been in the trench prior to placement of the trench shield.
On January 29, 2020, after less than 2.5 hours of deliberations, the jury returned a total defense verdict, finding that GSI and Johnson were not negligent. The jury found that Plaintiff’s accident was 100% the fault of the City, his employer at the time, for failure to properly train and supervise Plaintiff. As the prevailing party on their 998 offer, GSI and Johnson will be entitled to recover costs and expert fees, which are expected to be in excess of $100,000.