Products Liability Law Daily Transformer explosion leads to products liability suit against California utility company
Monday, June 22, 2020

Transformer explosion leads to products liability suit against California utility company

By Kathleen Bianco, J.D.

Company’s failure to conduct basic maintenance on aging electrical equipment is alleged to be the cause of a business owner’s catastrophic injuries.

A business owner, who suffered severe burns when an underground transformer located under a patio used by his restaurant for outdoor dining exploded during an Oktoberfest celebration, has filed suit against Southern California Edison Co. for its role in the explosion. The complaint alleges claims for negligence, strict products liability, negligent products liability, and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and asserts a private right of action under the state’s public utilities statute (Bischof v. Southern California Edison Co., June 18, 2020).

On October 5, 2019, the owner of Old World Restaurant in Huntington Beach, California, was nearly killed when an underground transformer owned by Southern California Edison exploded in the middle of a crowded Oktoberfest celebration. In addition to the physical injuries sustained by the restaurant owner, including second- and third-degree burns on nearly half of his body, four other members of his family also suffered injuries in the explosion. The complaint, filed by the owner and his family members in a California state court, contends that the utility company was aware of the danger posed by the underground transformer dating back to at least 2010 following an earlier explosion. The restaurant owner further alleges that the utility company in 2015 ignored both his warnings and pleas to move the transformer "before someone gets blown up in the event of another problem with the transformer," and that in 2018 the company ignored warnings of its own employees describing the transformer as a "death trap." The suit also alleges that the transformer explosion was preventable and the result of the company placing corporate profits and its own bottom line over public safety.

Causes of action. The complaint asserts claims for negligence, strict and negligent products liability, and negligent infliction of emotional distress against the utility. In support of the negligence-related claims, the family alleges that the utility breached a duty of care that it owed to the public to maintain, inspect, install, replace, control, repair, locate, and operate the underground transformer located under the family’s restaurant in a reasonable and safe manner. As to the strict liability claim, the family contends that the transformer bank contained a design and/or manufacturing defect when it was introduced into the stream of commerce because it was unsafe for its intended use. As a result of these defects, the transformer failed to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect when used in an intended and reasonably foreseeable manner, the complaint maintains.

The complaint further contends that the owner’s family members who were in the vicinity of the explosion suffered extreme emotional distress upon witnessing their father, son, and brother being burned alive.

Relief sought. The complaint contends that the alleged acts and/or omissions of the utility company directly and proximately caused the family’s injuries and damages. Moreover, the family alleges that the acts and omissions were willful, intentional, and malicious. As such, in addition to demanding a trial by jury seeking damages, costs, interest against the defendants, and other such relief as the court deems appropriate, the family is seeking to recover punitive damages.

The case is No. 20STCV22690.

Attorneys: Gregory L. Bentley (Bentley & More LLP) for Bern Bischof. Kevin R. Boyle (Panish Shea & Boyle LLP) for Markus Bischof, Josef Bischof, Cyndie Kasko and Jason Kasko.

Companies: Southern California Edison Co.

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