Friday April 19th 2024

Booth LLP Defeats Fire Claims of 472 Plaintiffs at Trial

March 25, 2022

Jason Booth, Benjamin Caplan, and Azniv Khararjian of BOOTH LLP obtained a 12-0 defense verdict following a three-week jury trial in Los Angeles Superior Court (Complex Case Division). The trial focused on the cause of a large 2016 industrial fire at a metal scrap yard.  The plaintiffs were 472 residents of the surrounding neighborhood, who claimed they suffered property damage as a result of the fire.  The Plaintiffs claimed the fire had been caused by a catastrophic failure of the defendant utility company’s near-by electrical transformer. Plaintiffs had initially brought suit against the owner of the scrap yard, and the operator of an illegal precious metal reclamation operation, hidden in a warehouse inside the scrap yard.  Plaintiffs later added the utility company based on the scrap yard owner’s claim that the fire started when the transformer exploded.   

The jury heard testimony from more than 30 witnesses, including multiple firefighters and HazMat officers, fire investigators, and a DTSC representative.  The jury was presented with dozens of photos and diagrams of the scene, and heard the testimony of several technical experts regarding electrical engineering, fire science and investigation, hazardous material handling and safety, chemistry, and metallurgy.  However, at the close of the trial, the jury deliberated for less than hour before it returned a unanimous defense verdict for the defendant utility company, finding that the fire had not been caused by the transformer. 

Along with co-defense counsel, Casolari & Zell, the defense of the utility company focused on (1) proving that the transformer did not explode, as plaintiffs claimed, and therefore could not have been the start the fire; (2) proving that the fire had traveled from the warehouse toward the power pole, not the other way round, as Plaintiffs claimed; and (3) proving that the fire probably started in the warehouse sublet by the property owner to an unpermitted and illegal precious metal reclamation operation which was stripping the metals from old circuit boards and other e-waste, using powerful acids and other potentially explosive materials.  BOOTH LLP presented compelling evidence that based on their operations, there were numerous, significant fire hazards present in the building at the time of the fire, and a significant risk of spontaneous combustion.  The jury agreed and found that the transformer was not the cause of the fire. Without the element of causation, all of the Plaintiffs’ claims necessarily failed.

Significantly, prior to trial, BOOTH LLP was able to eliminate the Plaintiffs’ Inverse Condemnation claim though a Motion for Summary Adjudication, thereby removing the risk of possible strict liability and eliminating the availability of an award of attorney’s fees to the plaintiffs, had they been successful.

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