California Demolition Blows Off Man’s Leg And Injuries Four Others

Today we discussed strict liability for wild animals in the wake of the terrible tragedy in Canada. Bakersfield, California is facing another area of traditional strict liability after a man lost his leg to shrapnel from a demolition of a power plant and various others were injured. Such demolitions fall within ultrahazardous or abnormally dangerous activities subject to common law strict liability rules.

The liability in the case could extend not only to the contractor, Cleveland Wrecking Co. of Covina, but also the city and county. The public utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, owned the steam power plant that was decommissioned decades ago. The government allowed people to come and watch and there was obviously a great deal of public information to allow such spectators — over a 1000 people by some estimates. Some slept in their cars to get a good spot for the show in a Lowe’s Home Improvement Store parking lot.

The explosion sent shrapnel through two chain link fences and tore the 44-year-old man’s leg off and injured at least four others. The man also had sever injuries to his other leg.

The contractor is obviously potentially liable under strict liability. Road blasting and demolition are viewed as ultrahazardous activities or activities that remain highly dangerous even with the use of due care.

The potential liability clearly includes the city. While it used a contractor, I would argue that this was a nondelegable duty. Restatement Second of Torts, section 424, provides: “One who by statute or by administrative regulation is under a duty to provide specified safeguards or precautions for the safety of others is subject to liability to the others for whose protection the duty is imposed for harm caused by the failure of a contractor employed by him to provide such safeguards or precautions.”

This rule applies in California:

“The law has long recognized one party may owe a duty to another which, for public policy reasons, cannot be delegated. Such nondelegable duties derive from statutes, contracts, and common law precedents. Courts have held a party owing such a duty cannot escape liability for its breach simply by hiring an independent contractor to perform it.”

Barry v. Raskov, 232 Cal.App.3d 447, 455 (1991). Here Pacific Gas and Electric reached an agreement with the city to clean up the property and prepare it for sale. The company hired the contractors.

There is also the liability of the city in allowing people so close to the site. One of the more interesting issues would be the potential liability of Lowes for allowing people reportedly to camp out and watch from its property. There were also an assortment of subcontractors who are likely to be pulled into litigation.

The structure itself consisted of two towers measuring 140 feet high that supported four 200,000 gallon tanks. That obviously has a high danger for shrapnel.

I have always been amazed at the use of these demolitions for public entertainment particularly in buildings that used asbestos. While such asbestos is removed, there is no clear threshold for dangerous exposure to asbestos and there is no way to remove all such contamination from a site. While shrapnel injuries are rare, that is due to the level of precaution shown by contractors and the given site. Boilers would appear ideal for producing shrapnel in a demolition operation.

Source: Washington Post

17 thoughts on “California Demolition Blows Off Man’s Leg And Injuries Four Others”

  1. There were two contractors involved. One, let their license lapse 3 days prior to the demolition, the other contractor’s name and license cannot be found by state officials! This was reported on KCET 15 news Bakersfield, CA – Kern County, CA. this morning.

  2. Was that A bomb dropped over Hiroshima or Detroit? Comparing the two cities one would think it was Detroit

  3. Oh my….. Everything’s fun and games until someone looses and eye…..

  4. Scott, I would have loved to see Freemond bring down a building. I didn’t know the info you provided. We never needed blast walls or sandbags. I love watching sh!t blow up. They brought down an old power plant just south of San Diego earlier this year. I was going to go watch but had a conflict. Video is ok but seeing it live is a thrill. They had a good crowd @ the San Diego detonation.

  5. lottakatz 1, August 6, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    Dredd, I love ya’ truly, but (you know you’re going to catch some flack when a woman says that, LOL) yes, it was a good war, it was a very good war.

    According to the historians I read, it was just another oil war, as they all were from ~1912 on (The Universal Smedley – 2). Vietnam, where we killed millions of civilians, may be an exception (The Virgin MOMCOM – 6). It may have been the first spiritual war.

    One military officer during what you call a very good war, the Secretary of Defense at the time of the Vietnam War, later made these comments about “the very good war”:

    Robert McNamara: I was on the island of Guam in his [General Curtis LeMays’] command in March 1945. In that single night, we burned to death one hundred thousand Japanese civilians in Tokyo. Men, women and children.

    Interviewer: Were you aware this was going to happen?

    Robert McNamara: Well, I was part of a mechanism that, in a sense, recommended it. [regarding his and Colonel Curtis LeMay’s involvement in the bombing of Japan during World War II] LeMay said if we lost the war that we would have all been prosecuted as war criminals. And I think he’s right. He … and I’d say I … were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side has lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?


  6. Dredd, I love ya’ truly, but (you know you’re going to catch some flack when a woman says that, LOL) yes, it was a good war, it was a very good war. I think of the war in Europe and am humbled that we helped end the progress of such evil. I am only sorrowful at the length of time it took to get into the war and our deplorable behavior regarding immigration and amnesty of those fleeing the horror. We did so little from everything I have read.

    Regarding Japan I’m forever sorry and ashamed over the second bomb and would rather have not used the first. If it was an imperative I’d rather it were dropped on Berlin but that timeline only works in an alternate universe. History indicates that the first bomb was not as necessary as the US says it was. But that is hindsight and hindsight is a wonderful thing, it perfects your understanding and plans like nothing else will.

    I saw a British official on a TV show during the cold-war. He was asked if the Russians dropped an atomic bomb on Britain, would he respond in kind by using a nuclear weapon on Russia. He didn’t answer for a very long pause but he answered “no”, he said he could not do that knowing (from Japan) what such a weapon would do. I liked that answer and respect it. But he wasn’t the man I’d want as my Minister of Defense if the fit hits the shan.

    That being said Nagasaki was a war crime. That should never have happened.

    There is a certain virtue and logic to that war, including Hiroshima that I approve of: don’t fight if you can avoid it, don’t do it until your logistics and material are in place (if possible) and then do it to win. Dresden and Hiroshima? That’s winning. Winning is as ugly as losing but without the legacy of being a captive or fallen nation thereafter.

  7. Well, the way you make a building implode is by exploding the support structures, which allows gravity to do the work. As you can see, the blasts are on low support columns. Because they are low, it’s easy to block shrapnel coming out sideways with blast walls. It’s also important to use sandbags or some other method to eliminate anything that gets airborn (which can then travel a long way).

    Further, it looks like their timing of the charges was a little off, as the building fell to one side, instead of down and in on itself. This may have been what they wanted, but usually, you try to get these things to fall down and on themselves, which helps break up the material, making it easier to remove.

  8. I saw the video of this and it was ridiculous. It looked like explosions, just straight-up explosions, not implosions or anything like that and I was surprised to see people so close also. It struck me that either the demolition explosive’s people made some serious errors, if it wasn’t supposed to be just big explosions or, those folks should never have been that close.

    Thanks for the added info Scott.

  9. I also spent summers and vacations working for an explosives company that did quarry work. We, occasionally, did buildings, bridges, etc. I would spend a lot of time with my crew building blast walls in a situation like this one, which would protect the nearby structures (and people) from the debris that shoots out of the explosion.

    I don’t see any kind of blast wall here.

    We would even, occasionally, use sandbags on top of tarps, which would reduce and/or slow down debris ejected from the explosion.

    Don’t see anything like that here either.

  10. Happy demolition Hiroshima day:

    August 6 marks 68 years since the United States committed what is arguably the single gravest act of terrorism that the world has ever known. Terrorism means the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians, and targeted they were, with the cutely named “Little Boy” atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at a location and time of day when, as the Strategic Bombing Survey commissioned by President Harry Truman conceded, “nearly all the school children … were at work in the open,” a perfect opportunity for mass incineration.

    “That fateful summer, 8:15,” the mayor of Hiroshima recalled at a memorial service in 2007, “the roar of a B-29 breaks the morning calm. A parachute opens in the blue sky. Then suddenly, a flash, an enormous blast — silence — hell on earth. The eyes of young girls watching the parachute were melted. Their faces became giant charred blisters. The skin of people seeking help dangled from their fingernails. … Others died when their eyeballs and internal organs burst from their bodies. Hiroshima was a hell where those who somehow survived envied the dead. Within the year, 140,000 had died.”

    (Robert Scheer, Huffpo). Yep, that was a “good war”, as the warlords say.

    Okie dokie.

    Just a Happy Family of Warriors doing a heck-uva lot of good family stuff around the world.

    Yep. One death is a tragedy, 140,000 mostly civilian burned alive is a statistic.

  11. The good news in all this is some insurance defense firms will be kept busy for awhile! Unfortunately for their clients, it may be just a matter of how much!

  12. I spent a summer working on a road and quarry drilling/blasting team the summer before going off to college. It’s very hard work. The general foreman hired me and his son to work for the summer. The jobs were all around New England which was cool, staying in motels was fun then. As an adult working on the road staying in motels/hotels sucked. Freemond Champney was his name, and he was a legend. Freemond drank all day. Budweiser in bottles, w/ a case always in his truck. When we would ask Freemond how far it was to a job site in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, etc., he would tell us in beers. He wasn’t trying to be cute. He would say, that’s about 5-6 beers. Now, during the day Freemond drank slowly. So 2 beers = ~1 hour. He drank more quickly in the evening and weekends. Detonation day was also hard work. Lots of bags of filler along w/ the TNT. All of the quarry workers or road crew workers would gather to watch and marvel @ Freemond’s craftsmanship. You see, if you use too much TNT the rock will blow out a great distance. Freemond told us one of his first blasts ended up w/ a good sized boulder ending up in a pool nearby. If you use too little TNT, then there would be huge boulders that the quarry or road crews would have to jackhammer, which they hated. I watched about 10-12 detonations that summer. Whether it was trap rock, silica, limestone..quarry or road project, it was always virtuoso, w/ Freemond getting an ovation. They needed Freemond on this project, but the man died about 15 years ago.

  13. I remember this strict liability doctrine from my (your) torts final. If memory serves it was reindeer falling from the sky (a plane? Santa’s sled?) and injuring some poor schmuck.

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