Migrant orchard worker electrocuted by overhead power lines, family in Mexico awarded $4.7 million. Riverside County.


Orchard worker on ladder is electrocuted when ladder contacts SCE's overhead power lines.

The Case

  • Case Name: Estate of Pablo Padilla Ayala v. Southern California Edison Company
  • Court and Case Number: Riverside County Superior Court / RIC 1209850
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Tuesday, July 07, 2015
  • Type of Case: Wrongful Death
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Sharon J. Waters
  • Plaintiffs:
    Maura Cabrera Diaz, 32, homemaker.
    Omar Padilla Cabrera, 9.
    Luis Michel Padilla Cabrera, 7.
    Pascasio Padilla Ayala, 28, farm laborer.
  • Defendants:
    Southern California Edison Company (owner of the subject power lines).
    S&R Farm Labor Contractor, Inc. (supervisor at site).
    Circle K-5 Citrus Ranch/Kelley Trust (property owner).
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $4,745,000
  • Net Verdict or Award: $4,033,250
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    80% liability on defendant Southern California Edison Company, 15% on decedent’s employer, Gold Grower Services, 5% on defendant S&R Labor Contractor, 0% on Circle K-5 Ranch/Kelley Trust. 

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 5 weeks.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 1 day.
  • Jury Polls: From 9-3 to 12-0 on various issues.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Greene Broillet & Wheeler by Robert Jarchi and Molly McKibben, Santa Monica.

    Law Offices of Sandra Ruvalcaba Romero by Sandra Romero, Ventura.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Pyka Lenhardt Schnaider Zell by Don H. Zell and Carissa Casolari, Santa Ana. (For Southern California Edison.)

    Southern California Edison Company by Javier C. Rivera, Rosemead. (For Southern California Edison.)

    Horton, Oberrecht Kirkpatrick & Martha by Kimberly S. Oberrecht, San Diego. (For S&R Farm Labor Contractor, Inc.)

    Law Offices of McCarthy & Beavers by Victor Lee, Newport Beach. (For Circle K-5 Ranch/Kelley Trust)

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Lester M. Zackler, M.D., neuropsychiatry, Sherman Oaks.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):


  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Samuel J. Sero, P.E., electrical engineering, Pittsburgh, PA.

    Robert Wallace, tree expert, Simi Valley.

    Richard T. Gill, Ph.D., human factors engineering, Spokane, WA.

    Slobo Mitic, photogrammetrics, Sacramento.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Robert Spease, utility construction and maintenance, Los Angeles.

    Stephen Cieslewicz, utility vegetation management, Sebastopol.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    On July 9, 2010 at 5:20 a.m., 31-year-old fruit harvester, Pablo Padilla Ayala was electrocuted when his 20-foot ladder, which was provided by his employer Gold Grower Services, Inc., came into contact with a power line directly above a row of orchard trees in Hemet, California. 

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Plaintiffs contended that the subject power lines were too low and at a height of 18’10,” that SCE failed to maintain the subject power lines at a minimum height of 25 feet, and that SCE failed to trim/remove the trees under the power lines to ensure at least 10 feet of clearance between the trees and power lines.  Plaintiffs further contended that defendant was required under Public Utilities Commission (”PUC”) regulations at the time of initial installation to maintain a clearance of 25 feet above the ground.  

    Plaintiffs’ counsel urged the jury to reject any suggestion that the value of decedent’s loss was any less due to his national origin, due to the fact that the family did not speak English, or due to the fact that his work required him to be away from his family for periods of time. 

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendant SCE contended that when the lines were first installed in 1946, that the subject location was a pedestrian area and that PUC regulations required a minimum height of 17 feet. Under PUC regulations the required height of the lines at the time of the incident was the height required when the lines were originally installed in 1946, which was either 17 or 18 feet. SCE also contended that the clearance had been reduced as a result of damage which occurred to their facilities after a pole was replace by its contractor, Hot Line, in September 2009.

    Defendant SCE further contended that under PUC regulations only 18 inches of clearance was required between the trees and the power lines. All defendants also contended that decedent's employer was at fault and violated OSHA regulations requiring that 6 feet of clearance be maintained between workers and ladders used by the workers and power lines, and that it was inappropriate to use 20-foot ladders on trees that the defense contended were 12-14 feet high. 

    All defendants further contended that because plaintiffs and decedent had significant periods of time during their marriage that they were living apart and had allegedly not seen decedent for over a year prior to the incident, that the claimed noneconomic damages should be diminished. 

    All defendants also contended that plaintiff Pascasio had not suffered severe emotional distress because right after the incident he kept working in the orchard and did not seek any medical or psychological treatment.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Pablo Padilla Ayala was killed by electrocution. Mr. Ayala’s family, Maura, Omar and Luis, sought recovery for wrongful death damages.  Pascasio sought recovery for negligent infliction of emotional distress damages. Plaintiffs waived all economic damages and the verdict was all noneconomic general damages for wrongful death.

Additional Notes

At trial, plaintiffs' attorney asked the jury for approximately $5.7 million.

Defendant's attorney asked the jury for approximately $500,000. ($425,000 per defense counsel.)