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Western News

1HomePageMap small w 0816Local news stories affecting the auto body industry in California, NevadaOregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Hawaii, Alaska and Wyoming

Monday, 23 September 2013 09:37

California Teen Dies in Locked-Car Tragedy

The death of a California teen is under investigation after she was found dead inside a locked car, and police suspect a jammed lock may have led to the teen’s death. The 14-year-girl was found dead inside a very hot car, where temperatures reached 130 degrees, after faulty locks apparently left her trapped inside.

Graciela Martinez was found dead in the backseat of her brother’s BMW outside Madera South High School in Madera, CA, hours after he had gone inside to class.

He drove his sister to school that morning and left her alone in the vehicle because he had a 6.40 am class while her first lesson began at 7.40 am. She had no cellphone, food or water with her. When he and another sister finished classes at the end of the day, they found Graciela white and unresponsive in the back seat.

“They took her to the hospital but they couldn’t save her,” said the victim’s sister, Patricia Martinez.

Police said it now appears the Madera South freshman was accidentally locked inside her car and was unable to escape.

“People don’t think of that, I don’t think of that even after this investigation started, that was the furthest thing from my mind,” said Madera detective Dan Foss.

But things quickly changed when Foss made a disturbing discovery about the car’s locking system. He said investigators found the doors will sometimes lock on both the inside and outside when the key is used, disabling the horn and making it almost impossible to escape.

“Would she feasibly be able to get out of the car? It would be very difficult, she would have to try very hard,” Foss said.

Officers demonstrated how the car can unknowingly turn into a death trap. Investigators said Graciela’s brother was unaware of the risk when he locked her in only to find her dead hours later.

“It’s just sad, you never really know when it is going to happen.” said classmate Brandon Hernandez.

A recent vapor explosion in Missoula, MT, has led to the death of one body shop employee and the injury of another. Both OSHA and the local Missoula fire department are investigating the tragic incident.

Two employees of Rick’s Auto Body were injured the morning of Aug 19, one fatally, after lacquer thinner fumes exploded in an enclosed area in the back of the shop.

Bruce Hall, 44, died early the following morning at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle from third-degree burns suffered over 95% of his body.

Missoula City Fire Marshal Gordy Hughes said the two workers were caught in the fire when static electricity caused paint fumes to ignite, and explode.

Hughes said two other employees rushed to the area after they heard someone yell fire, and doused the flames with a fire extinguisher.

The other man had minor burns and injuries related to inhaling fumes from the explosion, Hughes said. He was hospitalized then released.

Hughes said several items in the shop also caught on fire, but the auto body shop itself sustained minimal damage.

“We’ll be looking at things like what kind of protective system they have in place,” Hughes said.

Rick Booth, who owns Rick’s Auto Body, said the entire shop is devastated by the death of a co-worker.

Hall, who lived in Missoula, had worked at the shop for five years in the detail department and provided customers with rides when their vehicles were in the shop, Booth said. Customers were very fond of Hall, whom Booth described as a quiet guy who liked his job.

“It’s a tragedy,” Booth said. “It’s not what we expect to have happen when we come to work.”

He said he isn’t sure what OSHA or the fire department will be investigating, but said he assumes they are looking at what caused the elements to ignite. They may also be looking at a faulty piece of equipment, he said.

Booth said there may be a mechanical issue with part of the fan that shuts off when it senses fire. “I want to find out what it was, so we can fix the right thing,” Booth said.

Hughes said his inspectors would be looking into the ventilation system and other safety measures in the building. The fire department’s investigation won’t be completed until next week.

Hughes said Rick’s Auto Body is “not negligent as far as the fire department [is concerned.]”

He said that OSHA’s investigation to determine if the building’s safety code was up to standards will be released in a couple of weeks, and potentially an exhaust fan may be part of the issue.

While the shop had safety measures, including training, in place, management acknowledges that the ventilation and equipment is still being investigated.

There are a few things to retain from this incident:
● When transferring flammable liquids in a metal container, the container must always be grounded and bonded.
● When transferring flammable liquids, ensure it is being done away from potential ignition sources.
● Ensure all containers are capped when not being used.
● Just because many paints are now waterborne does not mean that paint operations are without hazards; most clearcoats are still very flammable.
● Employees must be trained on the workplace hazards of their work environment.

This tragic event is a reminder of the seriousness and significance that attention to safety has, particularly with paint and spray operations.

According to a recent California appellate court decision, an employer can be liable for an employee who drank too much at a company party, made it home safely, and then killed a man in a drunk driving accident after he left his house again to drive another employee home.

“It is irrelevant that foreseeable effects of the employee’s negligent conduct (here, the car accident) occurred at a time the employee was no longer acting within the scope of his or her employment,” the court ruled.

Michael Landri was a bartender at the Marriott Del Mar Hotel. He attended the hotel’s annual holiday party in December 2009, beginning his celebration with a beer and a shot of Jack Daniels at home. He also filled a five-ounce flask with Jack Daniels and took it with him to the party, held at the hotel.

At the party, one of the managers acted as a bartender. She filled Landri’s flask on at least one occasion. Another employee drove a group to Landri’s house. Roughly 20 minutes later (and not having consumed any more alcohol) Landri left his house to drive another coworker home. En route, while driving over 100 mph, he rear-ended another car, killing the driver. Landri had a 0.16 blood alcohol level. He pleaded guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced to six years in prison.

The deceased’s parents brought suit against Landri and Marriott. A trial court judge granted summary judgment to the hotel. But the appellate court reversed.

Marriott’s respondeat superior liability (meaning, in many circumstances, an employer is responsible for the actions of employees performed within the course of their employment) followed the risk created by the intoxication, the court said, no matter where it proximately caused harm. Because he became intoxicated at an employee-sponsored party that benefited Marriott, he was acting within the scope of his employment and the employer could be liable.

The court reviewed two divergent doctrines of liability from different jurisdictions addressing similar factual scenarios. In Arizona, Illinois, and Kansas, the court noted, an employer is liable only if the accident itself occurs at a time when the employee is acting within the scope of his or her employment.

Another group of states – including Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington—have found it sufficient, for respondeat superior liability purposes, that the alcohol consumption occurred within the scope of employment.

Aligning California with the latter position, the appellate court said its decision was also in accord with state precedent. “[E]xisting California case law clearly establishes that an employer may be found liable for its employee’s torts as long as the proximate cause of the injury occurred within the scope of employment,” the court wrote. “It is irrelevant that foreseeable effects of the employee’s negligent conduct occurred at a time the employee was no longer acting within the scope of his or her employment.”

The court determined that a reasonable trier of fact could find that Landri was acting within the scope of his employment when he became intoxicated at the party. The consumption of alcoholic beverages by employees at the hotel “was a customary incident to the employment relationship,” the court said. Employees were allowed to finish alcohol left over after parties while on shift, taste new drinks or have drinks purchased for them; at the party, managers served hard alcohol and did shots with employees.

Marriott also benefited from the party because it furthered employer-employee relations and improved employee morale, the court noted.

Marriott argued that allowing it to be liable under the facts of the case would open the doors to broad potential liability for employers. Its responsibility as a result of serving alcohol at the party, it asserted, should have ended when Landri arrived at his home safely.

The panel rejected that contention. “[A] trier of fact could conclude that the proximate cause of the accident, Landri’s intoxication, occurred within the scope of Landri’s employment,” the court said. “[W]e focus on the act on which vicarious liability is based and not on when the act results in injury.”

No reasonable justification exists for “cutting off an employer’s potential liability as a matter of law simply because an employee reaches home,” the court added. Instead, “the employer’s potential liability under these circumstances continues until the risk that was created within the scope of the employee’s employment dissipates.”

The Purton decision opens employers up to potentially broad liability under the court’s analysis, focusing the scope of employment “on the act on which vicarious liability is based and not on when the act results in injury.”

Marriott argued that the decision would judicially legislate new law that employees drinking at an employer function must be escorted home and kept there by escort, in violation of personal privacy and liberties, for employers to avoid liability.

“Not so,” the court said. The employer “created the risk of harm at its party by allowing an employee to consume alcohol to the point of intoxication.” The court added that Marriott could have lessened its risk by enforcing a drink-ticket policy, serving drinks for only a limited time period, serving food or instituting a policy prohibiting smuggled alcohol. “Alternatively, it could have eliminated the risk by forbidding alcohol.”

After the court’s decision, many employers may choose the last option to similarly eliminate the risk of liability. “[I]f a commercial enterprise chooses to allow its employees to consume alcoholic beverages for the benefit of the enterprise, fairness requires that the enterprise should bear the burden of injuries proximately caused by the employees’ consumption,” the court concluded.

Under federal law, employers can meet minimum wage requirements for piece-rate workers by paying them enough so that their total pay meets the minimum wage, on average, for the hours they work in a work week, regardless of whether each hour was productive. But now the California Court of Appeal says that’s not true in California.

A candy apple red 1959 Chevrolet Impala Convertible showcar has been stolen from Fresno, California. The car is known as "Rosebud" and was built by OZ Kustom from Orville, CA. The car's VIN number is 9186701645.

the owner is offering a no questions asked reward.... read more and see photo HERE

A bill currently in front of the California Assembly would modify how a certified pre-owned vehicle can be sold. The bill would include manufacturer’s safety recalls on the list of prohibited conditions for certified vehicles.

The measure, AB 964, would also add a required pre-sale disclosure for all used vehicles (including non-certified units) regarding manufacturer’s recalls and the other safety and warranty issues. The bill’s author, Assemblyman Rob Bonta who represents Oakland, said these disclosures parallel the safety and warranty conditions applicable to certified used vehicles.

California law already states used vehicles may be advertised and sold only if certain criteria apply regarding the condition of the vehicle. Examples of those criteria include that the odometer has not been altered or replaced to show fewer miles and that the vehicle has not been salvaged or have other specified safety problems.

Opponents including the California New Car Dealers Association and the Independent Automobile Dealers Association of California, contend that the bill is unnecessary, burdensome and difficult “if not impossible” for dealers to remain compliant.