Business

Monday, Jan 30 2012 05:26 PM

Mother of dead compost worker files suit alleging dangerous conditions

BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

A wrongful death lawsuit filed last week alleges dangerous conditions at the Lamont composting facility where two brothers are believed to have inhaled fatal doses of toxic gases.

Brought on behalf of the brothers' mother, Faustina Ramirez, the suit seeks more than $25,000 in monetary damages relating to the death of Heladio Ramirez, who was 22 when he was rendered brain dead by the Oct. 12 accident that killed his 16-year-old brother, Armando. Heladio was taken off life support a few days later.

The mother could not be reached for comment Monday.

A Bakersfield attorney representing the composting company, Community Recycling & Resource Recovery Inc., declined to comment, saying he had not yet seen the lawsuit.

The form complaint makes no mention of Armando, who unlike Heladio worked for Community Recycling; Heladio worked for Bakersfield's A & B Harvesting Inc.

Families of people killed in industrial accidents generally are not able to recover damages from the deceased person's employer.

"We can file third party action against the recycler because (Heladio) wasn't actually employed by the recycler," said Robert "Bob" Williams, Faustina Ramirez's Fresno attorney.

The complaint, filed Jan. 24 in Kern County Superior Court, cites "premises liability" as its basis. It accuses Community Recycling of negligence and alleges that dangerous conditions were created by company employees.

The suit also says the company knew that its property was dangerous, and that it had sufficient time to correct the situation before Heladio's death.

The suit seeks funeral and burial expenses as well as "damages for the loss of love, society, comfort, support, protection and services, and inheritance right" on behalf of Faustina Ramirez. A case management conference is set for July 23.

Cal-OSHA has reported that Armando, working under the identity of a 30-year-old, was cleaning out a drainage tunnel at Community Recycling when he apparently inhaled hydrogen sulfide and was overcome. It said Heladio saw him lying unconscious at the bottom of an underground shaft and went down to rescue him, only to be overcome as well.

A spokeswoman for Cal-OSHA and the state labor commissioner's office confirmed Monday that their investigations continue to look into the deaths of the two brothers.

The county Board of Supervisors, citing various land use violations, ordered Community Recycling closed in November, and fined the company $2.3 million. The company has appealed both actions in court. A Superior Court judge stayed the closure order pending the outcome of a hearing set to resume Feb. 6.

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