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    PG&E settles with confidential payout to family in 2015 natural gas explosion lawsuit


    August 12, 2022 - Steven Mayer, The Bakersfield Californian

     

      Aug. 12—In a surprise development connected to an ongoing civil lawsuit against PG&E and two locally owned companies, the giant utility said Thursday it has reached a settlement with plaintiffs in the case involving a fatal natural gas explosion south of Bakersfield.

      PG&E's lawyers were uncharacteristically absent in court Thursday morning, when Kern County Superior Court Judge Bernard Barmann Jr. instructed the jury on the new development.

      "PG&E is no longer a party to this case," Barmann told jurors.

      They are not to speculate why, Barmann said. And they are not to consider this in any future deliberations.

      In a statement provided to The Californian, PG&E acknowledged that it did indeed settle with the plaintiffs, including Gloria Ruckman and her mother, Amalia Leal, both of whom suffered serious burns when a high-pressure natural gas line exploded on Nov. 13, 2015, sending flames 200 feet into the air behind the Ruckman home.

      "Our thoughts continue to be with the those impacted by this tragic incident," PG&E said in the statement.

      "We have reached a settlement agreement with the plaintiffs," PG&E continued. "Safety is our most important responsibility and we remain committed to keeping our customers, coworkers, contractors and communities we serve safe."

      As with most such settlements, the details must remain confidential.

      Later Thursday morning, the evidence phase of the trial continued with the plaintiffs' attorneys, Daniel Rodriguez and Joseph Low, questioning a pair of witnesses.

      Robert Sandrini lived less than a quarter-mile from the Ruckmans when the 34-inch, high-pressure gas line erupted after it was struck by the driver of a soil ripper who was preparing the land for almond tree planting.

      The concussion from the explosion ripped the screens off the front of his house and caused Sandrini's wife to fall to the floor inside the house.

      The second witness, Rob Yamashita, is a PG&E gas program manager who oversees PG&E contractors. He has trained excavators and others in a number of skill areas, including "marking standards."

      Much of the case revolves around whether the path of the large transmission gas line was properly marked before excavation work began in the field.

      It begins with an 811 call, the national call-before-you-dig phone number. Utilities are provided with an "811 ticket."

      "We get the 811 ticket, review the ticket, look for any conflicts in the area and mark off" the conflict zones, Yamashita testified.

      They generally have 48 hours to mark off the area, which is intended to warn excavators when they get close to danger zones. They use paint, flags, stakes or sometimes a combination, the PG&E employee said.

      The civil trial is expected to last six weeks.

      Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

      ___

      (c)2022 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.)

      Visit The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.) at www.bakersfield.com

      Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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