The maker of a cylinder that exploded while being filled with nitrous oxide in 2012 near USC, killing one man and injuring another, was not negligent, a jury found Thursday.
The Los Angeles Superior Court panel deliberated for a few hours before finding in favor of Catalina Cylinders and against the family of 31-year-old Roberto J. Lasarte of Lawndale. He died in the explosion that happened about 6:30 p.m. June 13, 2012, in a small building housing Lasarte’s employer, NOSWerks, behind Bembis Meat Market near Grand Avenue and Adams Boulevard.
Lasarte was transferring nitrous oxide from a large cylinder tank to an aluminum tank that exploded. The official cause of Lasarte’s death was multiple traumatic injuries, Ed Winter, the Los Angeles County coroner’s assistant chief of investigations, said at the time.
Lasarte’s lawyers maintained that Catalina and its president, Richard Hill, knew of the dangers of mixing hydrocarbons from carbon dioxide with nitrous oxide, yet the warning labels on the cylinders were not specific enough to warn consumers. Plaintiffs’ attorney Browne Greene said he was disappointed with the verdict.
“We gave it our best,” Greene said. “You win some, you lose some.”
Defense Attorney Fred Blum argued that management at Catalina Cylinders had adequate warnings on the tanks and that the plaintiffs’ attorneys were unrealistic in alleging they were insufficient.
Blum also defended Hill, saying he had been vilified by the Lasarte lawyers.
Blum called Lasarte a “risk-taker” who was introduced to nitrous oxide through street racing.
“He’s not the kind of person who put safety first,” Blum told jurors.
Nitrous oxide is two parts nitrogen and one part oxygen and is often referred to as “nos.” The state of California includes it on its list of hazardous substances.
Nitrous oxide is used in the gas used to sedate dental patients and in the racing industry to make cars go faster.
Among the plaintiffs in the suit were Lasarte’s father, Roberto M. Lasarte, and his brother, Juan Lasarte, who was working with his sibling when the explosion occurred four to five feet away. He suffered foot, back and head injuries.