Pool installer injured in gas explosion. $6.5 million gross, reduced by contributory negligence. Riverside County.

The Case

  • Case Name: Victor M. Regalado v. Jeffrey M. Callaghan
  • Court and Case Number: Riverside Superior Court / INC120669
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Wednesday, October 22, 2014
  • Date Action was Filed: Wednesday, May 23, 2012
  • Type of Case: Building Code Violations, Construction Site Accident, Contractor Negligence, Dangerous Condition Private Property, Negligence
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. David M. Chapman
  • Plaintiffs:
    Victor M. Regalado, 35 , pool technician employed by Dunn’s Designer Pools.
  • Defendants:
    Jeffrey M. Callaghan, general contractor, contracted Dunn’s Designer Pools to install a pool and spa at his private residence.
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $6,584,080
  • Net Verdict or Award: $2,937,136
  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: The jury found plaintiff Victor M. Regalado 5% negligent, Dunn's Designer Pools 55% negligent, defendant Callaghan 40%.
  • Economic Damages:


  • Non-Economic Damages:


  • Punitive Damages:


  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 18 days.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 2 1/2 hours.
  • Jury Polls: Negligence: 12 – 0; Causation: 9 – 3; Damages: 11 – 1.
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Defendant Jeffrey M. Callaghan filed a Motion for New Trial and Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict which were denied on December 29, 2014. There were no post verdict settlements.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Thon Beck Vanni Callahan & Powell by Daniel P. Powell and Michael O’Connor, Los Angeles.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman by R. Gregory Amundson, Newport Beach and Christopher D. Perez, Rancho Cucamonga.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Anne Barnes, R.N., life care planning, Glendale.

    Michael E. Brones, M.D., plastic and reconstructive surgery, Los Angeles.

    John J. Finazzo, M.D., otolaryngology, Palm Desert.

    Standiford Helm, II, M.D., pain management, Mission Viejo.

    Stephen S. Marmer, Ph.D., psychiatry, Los Angeles.

    Amir D. Tahernia, M.D., Rancho Mirage, Orthopedics.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    William Dillin, M.D., orthopedic surgery/spine, Los Angeles.

    David Karlin, M.D., neuroradiology, Orange.

    Mark V. Sofonio, M.D., F.A.C.S., plastic and reconstructive surgery, Rancho Mirage.

    Amy M. Sutton, BSN, Ph.D., life care planning, Long Beach.

    Eric K. Woodard, M.D., psychiatry, Palm Springs.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Brad P. Avrit, P.E., safety engineering, Marina del Rey.

    Marianne Inouye, economics, Pasadena.

    David Morrill, swimming pool construction, Ontario.

    Glen Stevick, Ph.D., PE, mechanical engineering, Berkeley.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Douglas R. Ferrell, Glendora, Aquatic Design, Standards.

    West Harrington, general contractor/cost of repair, Diamond Bar.

    Gary L. Smith, construction loss of productivity, Rohnert Park.

    Gary Lane Smith, Fire/Explosion Investigation, Kingwood, TX.

    Patrick Stremel, mechanical engineering, San Marcos.

    David Weiner, Ph.D., forensic economics, Los Angeles.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Plaintiff Victor Regalado, 35, was a pool technician working for Dunn's Designer Pools. Defendant Jeffrey M. Callaghan, a general contractor, contracted Dunn's Designer Pools to install a pool and spa at his private residence. Callaghan requested that all of the mechanical equipment, including the spa heater, be placed in an underground vault, which he had previously purchased and installed on his lot.

    Plaintiff installed the equipment in the underground vault, including the Pentair MasterTemp spa heater. He connected an underground propane gas line to the spa heater.  Propane, unlike natural gas, is heavier than air, and will not vent from a confined space.

    On June 2, 2010, plaintiff returned to the jobsite and turned on the spa heater for the first time. Plaintiff went through a purge process, inside the vault, where he cleared the propane gas line of residual air until he smelled propane. When plaintiff turned the spa heater on, an explosion ensued, ejecting him from the vault.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That defendant had the same duties and obligations as a general contractor to ensure worksite safety and to ensure that all structures complied with the applicable codes. That defendant retained control over the project by submitting all plans, pulling all permits and conducting all inspections required by the Riverside County Department of Building & Safety.

    Plaintiff alleged that defendant represented to Dunn's Designer Pools that the underground vault had been properly permitted and was safe for the installation of the pool and spa equipment. That defendant negligently retained control over the construction project when he failed to obtain permits for the underground vault, permits for installation of the mechanical equipment into the vault and permits and inspection of the underground propane gas line installed next to the underground vault. Also that Dunn's Designer Pools relied upon defendant's representations that all permits had been pulled and all equipment had been inspected and deemed to be safe.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    That he retained a specialty subcontractor, Dunn's Designer Pools, to install the pool, spa and related equipment in conformity with applicable codes. That Dunn's Designer Pools knew or should have known that installing a propane-fueled spa heater violated various codes and was unsafe.

    Further, that Dunn's Designer Pools knew or should have known that propane was heavier than air and, if released within the vault, would pose a hazard to any person working within the vault.

    Defendant claimed that he complied with all requirements of the Riverside County Department of Building & Safety and had, in fact, pulled permits and complied with all requirements.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Plaintiff claimed he suffered 51 percent full body burns and was airlifted to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center. Plaintiff also claimed he suffered vertebral body fractures at T12-L1 and a pre-existing spondylolisthesis at L5-S1 became symptomatic. After treatment for the burns, plaintiff underwent spinal fusion surgery at L5-S1. Plaintiff has developed post-traumatic stress disorder. Plaintiff returned to work, on a part-time basis, as an estimator at Dunn's Designer Pools on June 4, 2014.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: N/A – WCAB paid
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $426,000
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $158.080

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $3,300,000 (April 18, 2013) – Policy limit
  • Plaintiff Demand during Trial: None.
  • Defendant §998 Offer: $500,000 (June 23, 2014); $750,000 (10 days before trial)
  • Defendant Final Offer before Trial: $750,000
  • Defendant Offer during Trial: None.

Additional Notes

Pentair Water Pool and Spa, Inc. and Superior Pool Products LLC settled for $200,000 in July, 2014 (before trial).

The court denied Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment concerning Privette and retained control issues. Defendant's Motion to Bifurcate the intervenor's claim from the main body action was granted. Trial concerning the Workers Compensation Appeals Board claim is set for September 2015.