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Family of Gas Leak Victim Is Awarded $3 Million

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the loss of Jason Hoskins’ earning power, companionship and love, the family of the 22-year-old oil worker killed in a 1994 gas leak was awarded more than $3 million Wednesday--among the largest awards in county history.

Superior Court Judge Barbara A. Lane ordered Vintage Petroleum Inc. to pay the money to Hoskins’ wife, Tiffany, 4-year-old daughter Sierra and 7-year-old step-daughter Brittany, whom Hoskins raised as his own child.

The award was the fourth and largest levied so far against Oklahoma-based Vintage Petroleum, which in August was found liable in the Rincon oil field accident that killed three workers and injured three others.

Lane is expected to hand down a fifth damage award next week. A sixth award is not expected until later in the year. The awards total $5.6 million to date.

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Area lawyers say they are among the largest in county history, along with a $5-million verdict in a wrongful termination suit against the Oxnard Target store in 1989 and a $2.9-million malpractice award against a Simi Valley doctor in 1995.

“It’s gigantic for this county. It’s large anywhere,” longtime Ventura lawyer Richard Loy said. “That is a very substantial verdict, especially coming from a conservative judge. And it’s my understanding this judge used to be an insurance defense attorney.”

Hoskins’ mother, Patti, said she was “very pleased” with the award, particularly because it included young Brittany, who her son had not formally adopted but, she said, had loved nonetheless.

“No amount of money can replace my son,” Patti Hoskins said. “It’s really hard dealing with a case like this, where you watch the court put a value on the life of a person you’ve lost. . . . I’m glad we finally got some closure.”

The mother said she hopes the aftermath of the Vintage accident will lead to more strict enforcement of workplace safety regulations.

“It sometimes feels like no one has really been punished for this,” she added. “It’s not that I want revenge, but when something this bad happens, you want to see something good come of it.”

Vintage lawyer Bruce Finck said the legal saga will most likely continue.

“I’m predicting that Vintage will appeal all [damage awards],” Finck said. “Vintage was held 100% liable . . . despite the fact that they had three other independent contractors out there.”

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The lethal gas leak occurred at Vintage Petroleum’s oil production plant in the foothills of Rincon Mountain in Seacliff. The workers were part of a crew hired by a subcontractor to convert the 70-year-old well into a solid waste disposal site.

As the men drilled, a burst of gas caused water to shoot up the pipe, carrying noxious fumes with it.

Overcome by the gas, Hoskins, Ronald Johnson and Sean Harris died of heart attacks almost immediately. The men who rushed to help them--Toby Thrower, Derek Abbott and Jerry Walker--were injured as well.

In gripping testimony earlier this year, Tiffany Hoskins described her late husband as a doting father and a loving husband.

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Born into a family of oil field workers, Hoskins was the kind of man who “could fix almost anything,” Tiffany Hoskins testified.

The court was told Jason Hoskins had assembled a backyard slide for Brittany and sent romantic notes and cards to his wife, and that the excited father-to-be was looking forward to cutting Sierra’s umbilical cord at her birth; instead, Sierra was born the month after her father’s death.

In the judge’s decision, Lane concluded Hoskins’ love for his family was deep and genuine.

“Jason Hoskins and his wife Tiffany Hoskins were very compatible with each other and were shown by the credible testimony of several witnesses to have been soul-mates and best friends, as well as being lovers and spouses,” she said in a written decision.

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So far, Lane has levied awards of $267,055 to Johnson’s son, Tyler; $1.3 million to Thrower, and $1 million to Harris’ parents. Walker’s case ended in mistrial due to a change in expert witness testimony and is scheduled to begin anew in May.


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