Plaintiffs contract dangerous Valley Fever after doing construction work for Caltrans.
Elvie Hukill: $3,386,838.96
Mark Hukill: $1,621,007.37
Jose Hernandez: $244,094.22
Oscar Villasenor: $193,936.66
Glenn Bugler: $88,793
Elvie Hukill: $1,464,000
Mark Hukill: $1,220,000
Jose Hernandez: $1,524,000
Oscar Villasenor: $1,964,000
Glenn Bugler: $222,950
Unavailable against a public entity per statute.
Hinton Alfert & Kahn by Peter W. Alfert, Karen H. Kahn and Mark T. Baller, Walnut Creek.
Caltrans Legal by Daniel A. Near and Jeffrey B. Knox, Sacramento.
Robert Larsen, M.D., Valley Fever, Los Angeles.
John Taylor, Ph.D., mycology (fungus), Davis.
Ronald Ruff, Ph.D., plaintiff mental examination, San Francisco.
John Galgiani, M.D., Valley Fever, Phoenix, AZ.
David Busch, M.D., defense physical examinations, San Francisco.
William D. Hooker, Ph.D., defense mental examinations, San Francisco.
Mark Nicas, Ph.D., Microbial risk assessment, Berkeley.
Carol Hyland, life care planning, Lafayette.
Peter Formuzis, Ph.D., economics, Fullerton.
Timothy Bormann, CIH, contractors' duties, San Mateo.
Gerald Udinsky, Ph.D., economics, Berkeley.
Guy Harris, P.E., Caltrans construction projects, Meridian.
In September 2007, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) contracted with the construction company owned by Glenn Bugler to expand a culvert on a state right of way near Route 33 in Kern County. The work consisted primarily of excavation and movement of earth / soil. (Per defense counsel: Soil excavation was completed during the first week of the project. The work primarily consisted of structure work expanding a culvert to widen Route 33.) Plaintiffs all worked at the construction project in late June 2008, and by early July 2008, all plaintiffs were diagnosed with coccidioidomycosis pneumonia, which is caused by the Coccidioides immitis fungus, as had several other persons working at the site (including a Caltrans inspector).
The potentially fatal disease, Coccidioidomycosis, is commonly known as "Valley Fever.” Exposure to the fungus at a single location, and contraction of Valley Fever illness by a group of people, is known as a Point Source Outbreak.
Seven worker plaintiffs filed the original suit, but two were dropped after it was discovered that they were undocumented. Those two workers were deported.
Plaintiffs, including Bugler Construction’s owner, Glenn Bugler, and its employees Elvie Hukill, William Mark Hukill, Oscar Villasenor and Jose Hernandez, claimed that the property contained the dangerous Coccidioides immitis fungus. Plaintiffs contended that the fungus at the project site caused them to develop Valley Fever. Further, that the disease is incurable. Plaintiffs sued the State of California and Caltrans. [The State of California was dismissed based on a court ruling that the State of California is not a proper entity which can be sued.]
That until the plaintiffs were diagnosed with Valley Fever, none had knowledge of the fungus, nor did they know the area in which they were working could be infected.
Plaintiffs contended in their first cause of action that the construction site was a dangerous condition of public property; that Caltrans had notice of the dangerous condition; and that Caltrans failed to warn the plaintiffs of the dangerous condition.
Plaintiffs contended in their second cause of action that Caltrans’ employees actively, intentionally withheld facts from them which would have put them on notice of the hazardous fungus in the soil.
Plaintiffs established at trial that Caltrans knew before contracting with Bugler Construction that: 1) the construction site was in an area highly endemic for Coccidioides immitis; 2) the project site was in an area that posed the "highest risk" of developing Valley Fever to persons engaged in soil-moving activities; 3) Caltrans’ supervisory level employees, including the Safety Officer for Kern County and the construction safety coordinator for the project site where plaintiffs worked, had received training from the Kern County Department of Public Health about the hazardous nature of the fungus and steps that could be taken to prevent or mitigate exposure; 4) as part of that training, the Caltrans employees received a map which identified areas where the fungus had been isolated in the soil, including the area where plaintiffs were to work; 5) Caltrans had received reports of its own employees and contractors’ employees contracting Valley Fever working at construction sites in the highly endemic area; 6) Caltrans had warned all of its Kern County employees who had email accounts about the risk of exposure to the Coccidioides immitis fungus during excavation or other soil-disturbing work, and informed them how to prevent or mitigate exposure; 7) Caltrans, however, did not inform Bugler Construction or its employees of the risk - not in the contract for the construction project; not in a pre-construction safety meeting prior to the start of work; and not during work at the construction site.
Caltrans contended that there was no evidence to prove that the fungus was in the soil excavated at the construction site. Also, that the plaintiffs were exposed to dust containing the fungus while at the construction site area; that even if the fungus was in the soil, Caltrans did not have notice that it was there; that Caltrans acted reasonably, Bugler Construction should have known of the hazard of the fungus in the soil and what precautions needed to be taken.
Also, that Glenn Bugler had knowledge of the fungus prior to working at the project and that Bugler Construction’s superintendent knew of the fungus prior to Bugler Construction submitting its bid on the project, but still worked at the project site without applying water to control dust and not wearing a protective mask.
As to plaintiffs’ second cause of action, Caltrans contended its employees did not conceal the risk; that plaintiffs knew or should have known of the hazardous fungus; and that Caltrans’ employees did not intentionally conceal facts.
Defense contested the extent of the injuries and further contended that the disease is curable.
All plaintiffs suffered high inoculum exposures and were diagnosed with multi-lobe coccidioidomycosis pneumonia, which is indicative of severe infections.
Two plaintiffs – Elvie Hukill and W. Mark Hukill – are disabled and unable to work; two plaintiffs – Jose Hernandez and Oscar Villasenor – are partially disabled but have returned to work because their employers have accommodated them in non-strenuous jobs that do not require heavy manual labor; Glenn Bugler has returned to work without restrictions.
(Per defense counsel: Hernandez and Villasenor both returned to their previous work within 9 months after becoming ill. Hernandez is an equipment operator who was not performing heavy manual labor before or after he became ill. Villasenor returned to a job which required heavy manual labor and within the last year has been promoted to a supervisory position which requires less manual labor. There was no evidence that either of them are partially disabled and none of them received any compensation for future lost earnings.)