Traffic Control Worker Sues Companies in S.F. Gas Explosion


By: Ted Goldberg

August 28, 2019


An Oakland man hired to help direct traffic around a fiber optic cable installation project, which became the scene of an underground natural gas line rupture, explosion and fire in San Francisco earlier this year, is suing three firms linked to the project.

A lawyer for Robert Alarid said the initial gas line rupture in the city’s Inner Richmond neighborhood in February knocked him to the ground and sent dirt and cement flying into the air, hitting him in the face and body.

Alarid’s lawsuit was filed in San Francisco Superior Court on Tuesday against the job’s main contractor, Florida-based MasTec, and two subcontractors, New Jersey-based Advanced Fiber Works and Kilford Engineering, a construction company based in San Francisco.

The Feb. 6 explosion at Parker Avenue and Geary Boulevard led to a three-alarm fire that burned for hours while PG&E crews excavated the street nearby to shut off the flow of gas.

Fire investigators said the blaze caused more than $10 million in damage to residential and commercial buildings, the street and several parked cars.

“He keeps reliving the events,” Jabagchourian said Wednesday. “The city of San Francisco dodged a major bullet in this one. It could have been a lot worse.”

The lawsuit, which claims the companies were negligent and workers at the scene violated state regulations, seeks compensatory and general damages.

The legal action comes several weeks after California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) issued three citations against Kilford Engineering for committing a series of safety infractions before one of its employees dug into the underground line.

The National Transportation Safety Board, California Public Utilities Commission and San Francisco Fire Department also investigated the accident.

A preliminary NTSB report found that the fire ignited 10 seconds after crews struck the gas line.

Alarid’s lawsuit describes some of those moments. It says he noticed that a 4-inch gas distribution line was exposed while a crew member was digging with an excavator.

“He’s thinking to himself, ‘I hope he’s not going to hit this. Next thing he knows, he gets blown down,’ ” Jabagchourian said.

With cement and dirt flying in his face, Alarid observed natural gas flowing out the pipe and yelled for people nearby to run away, according to the suit. As he began to run from the site, a large fire erupted.

Jabagchourian also represents two city residents who filed a separate lawsuit in February over the explosion. Both lawsuits say Kilford Engineering workers should have used hand tools, like a shovel, instead of an excavator.

“The conduct was so despicable, that it constitutes conduct warranting exemplary damages against Kilford,” the most recent suit states.

A spokesman for Kilford said the company declined to comment on the suit.

John Higgins, president of MasTec’s Utility Services Group, pushed back against the lawsuit.

“The investigation conducted by federal and local authorities as well as MasTec, revealed no reports of serious injuries arising from this incident,” Higgins said in a statement. “We have fully supported the work of the authorities as they carried out the investigation and most importantly, MasTec deployed a fully staffed response team to address the needs of those in the immediate vicinity of the incident who were directly affected.”

A representative for Advanced Fiber Networks did not respond to a request for comment.