Jacob Gaines, 24, of Bakersfield and Manuel Villagomez, 38, of Elk Grove died in a Paso Robles construction accident on October 2, 2008 after an excavator hit a water line and submerged both men who were working on a pipeline. According to an article in The Bakersfield Californian, the accident occurred at the intersection of Niblick and South River roads when Gaines and Villagomez were working in a trench.
The San Luis Obispo County Coroner’s officials say that the men most likely drowned; autopsy results are pending. Both Gaines and Villagomez were employees of Teichert Construction, a Sacramento-based company. Work on the pipeline has been suspended as investigators from the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health are looking into what caused this tragic 10/2/08 construction accident.
My heart and prayers goes out to the families of these two men who have clearly suffered an irreparable loss. Here were two men hard at work, earning their living and someone else’s negligence cost them their lives. This is heartbreaking!
Cal-OSHA officials are still investigating what happened here. It appears to me that whoever was operating that excavator was not have been paying attention and hit the water line. It is also possible that the operator was not given information about the presence of the water line. Clearly the families of both Jacob Gaines and Manuel Villagomez are entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits through their employer, Teichert Construction. However, workers’ compensation benefits in California are embarrassingly inadequate to compensate a family for the loss of a loved one.
If I were handling this case I’d look into a “third party claim” here. A third party claim is basically a claim against someone other than the employer. To the families of Gaines and Villagomez, a third party claim may be worth a lot more than the workers’ compensation benefits they are entitled to. The victims’ families should certainly consult with a reputed Southern California construction accident attorney skilled in third party claims. I’ll bet Teichert Construction has their attorneys and insurance companies working overtime to look into this case and protect their interests. Who is protecting the rights of the Gaines and Villagomez families?