A Pasadena-based law firm has won a verdict against Qualcomm, the global semiconductor and telecommunications giant and one of San Diego’s largest employers. Qualcomm will pay $7.1 million to a man who suffered severe burns in 2013 while inspecting electrical equipment at the company’s San Diego headquarters. That verdict was handed down on Feb. 10 by a trial jury in San Diego. The plaintiff, Martin Sandoval, was represented by attorneys Dan Powell and Michael O’Connor of Thon Beck Vanni Callahan & Powell.
QC makes its own electricity. It uses a switchgear system to control, protect, and isolate electrical equipment. According to court records, ROS Electrical Supply & Equipment Company, based in Pico Rivera, was contracted to inspect Qualcomm’s switchgear system for an upgrade. On August 3, 2013, Martin Sandoval of Ros Electrical arrived at Qualcomm to conduct that inspection. Sandoval was badly burned in an arc flash fire from a live circuit breaker that was left on during the inspection, according to court records.
Important information in the case only recently became available after Qualcomm laid off more than 1,300 employees from its San Diego headquarters in November. Although Qualcomm had denied responsibility for safety during the 2013 inspection, three former Qualcomm employees came forward to make statements after the November 20 layoffs, according to court records. As Qualcomm employees, a litigation hold had previously prevented them from speaking about the 2013 incident, according to court records.
Also according to court records, Brian Higuera, who had been a Qualcomm supervisor in charge of the switchgear, stated that because he could not be at work on August 3, 2013, he recommended not going forward with the inspection – for safety reasons – to a Qualcomm senior facilities manager, Kirk Redding. Redding instead agreed to take Higuera’s place that day, according to Higuera’s statement. However, Redding did not appear at work on August 3. Sandoval was told the entire system was to be turned off. It wasn’t. Another contractor, without permission, removed a protective cover from a live 4,160-volt circuit breaker. As Sandoval approached the breaker, an arc flash occurred and he was set on fire, according to court records. California Superior Court Judge Joan Lewis allowed Higuera’s testimony regarding the events of August 3, 2013, and the jury ordered Qualcomm to pay Martin Sandoval $7.1 million.
The case is San Diego Superior Court, Central District Case# 37-2014-00012901-CU-POL-CTL.