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L.A. jury awards $27 million to family of construction worker who died at Hyperion Treatment Plant in 2011

Hyperion Treatment Plant
A view of Hyperion Treatment Plant in Playa Del Rey.
(Christina House / For The Times)

A Los Angeles jury has awarded $27 million to the family of a construction worker who fell to his death at a wastewater treatment plant in Playa del Rey in 2011, after finding the construction company at fault for the accident.

Edgar Alejandro Gonzalez, 30, was standing on top of a 30-foot concrete wall-form panel when it collapsed, killing him. The family filed a lawsuit against Atlas Construction Supply Inc., the designer and supplier of the wall-form system.

After a day of deliberating, jurors on Wednesday found the construction company at fault for the accident and awarded $3.5 million in economic damages and $23.5 million in non-economic damages to Gonzalez’s wife, Rosa, and their two children.

Lars Johnson, attorney for the Gonzalez family, could not be reached for comment, but in a news release, he called the verdict “the ultimate statement of accountability.”

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The jury had concluded that Atlas’ share of negligence was 55%, while the rest of the blame lay with USS Cal Builders, a contractor for the project, and the city of Los Angeles, according to Johnson.  

A spokesman for Atlas could not be reached for comment. 

Gonzalez worked for USS Cal Builders, which was constructing a gas compressor facility to replace equipment that was about 60 years old, according to City News Service. The company hired Atlas to provide plans and specifications for the design and implementation of the form structures, the news agency reported.

Gonzalez was helping put up a wall at the Hyperion Treatment Plant, which treats municipal wastewater from the city of Los Angeles, when the accident occurred Aug. 2, 2011. He suffered severe head trauma when he fell and parts of the wall collapsed on him.

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Attorneys for Atlas argued that the company was not responsible for the accident and put the blame instead on Gonzalez’s employer and a crane operator who placed the wall-form panel in place.

But jurors unanimously disagreed and ruled against Atlas.  

“From day one, Atlas took the position that it had no responsibility for the accident whatsoever, despite the fact that its design plans called for a panel to be placed at the site without proper support,” Johnson said. “The incident could have been avoided if Atlas’ engineer just took the time to read the available project plans closely to understand the condition at the site.”

The family sued the crane operator and settled the case for $650,000, CNS reported.

In the trial against Atlas, an emotional Rosa Gonzalez told jurors her husband was a “gentle-hearted” man who liked to stay home with the family more than going out, CNS reported.

“Family mattered to him so much,” she said.

Johnson said Gonzalez was a spectacular man who was a church youth leader and was known to coach his son’s soccer team and teach him to play guitar.  

“Edgar was a humble and yet inspirational young man, with wisdom and maturity beyond his years,” Johnson said. “He will be missed.”

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