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Burned Worker Wins Huge Verdict

Chatsworth company is ordered to pay part of a $58-million award.

March 24, 2004|Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writer

A former heavy machine operator who was severely burned on the job was awarded $58 million in damages by a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury Tuesday.

Jurors found that a defective O-ring in the Caterpillar paddle wheel scraper that Joseph Bryant Griggs, 46, was using to grade land at the time caused the Sept. 10, 1998, cab fire.

Griggs suffered third-degree burns to more than 75% of his body, and has undergone more than 25 surgical procedures since then, according to his attorneys, Brian J. Panish and Christine D. Spagnoli.

The jury deliberated four days before ordering Tools Exchange of Chatsworth, which imported the rubber truck part from Taiwan, and West-Pac Industries of Huntington Beach, which distributed it, to pay 95% of the damages, which included $48 million for pain and suffering. The 34-day trial was held before Superior Court Judge Victor Person.

Griggs was working for Moyle Excavation grading for a self-storage facility in Valley Springs, southeast of Sacramento, when the fire occurred.

Panish says his client suffers from severe, chronic pain and is unable to care for himself. Since the fire, Griggs has separated from his wife and moved back to Texas to be near his family.

West-Pac Industries attorney Steven J. Joffe said he will ask the judge for a new trial or to reduce the verdict, which he called "excessive and exorbitant."

Joffe said the scraper was 26 years old, had recently undergone three major repairs and was not properly checked before being put to use.

The defendants argued at trial that the O-ring was either too small or had been improperly installed, Joffe said.

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