The maker of a cylinder that exploded while being filled with nitrous oxide in 2012 near USC, killing one man and injuring his brother, reached a settlement with the surviving sibling on the day a retrial of the case was scheduled.
Lawyers for Juan Lasarte, the brother of the late 31-year-old Roberto Lasarte, and Catalina Cylinders announced the accord during a hearing Monday before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark Borenstein.
Borenstein presided over the first trial of the case in which a jury in August 2018 found in favor of the company. However, the judge later granted a partial retrial on the basis of defense attorney and juror misconduct and his ruling was upheld by a panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal.
Roberto Lasarte of Lawndale died in the explosion that happened at about 6:30 p.m. on 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 during trial 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.
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. The lawyer 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 in the first trial.
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.
Juan Lasarte was working with his sibling when the explosion occurred four to five feet away. He suffered foot, back and head injuries.