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City faces lawsuits over Google I/O blaze

3 injured kitchen workers blame city for gas fire at Shoreline Amphitheatre

The city of Mountain View is expected to face a trio of injury lawsuits related to a kitchen fire that broke out at a Shoreline Amphitheatre food stand during last year's Google I/O conference.

In an incident last May, Google's premier event for its developer base was brought to a halt when a small explosion erupted at one of Shoreline Amphitheatre's concession stands. The fire resulted in at least three people being rushed to the hospital with severe burns.

In recent weeks, the three hospitalized kitchen workers have each filed injury claims against Mountain View, saying the city bears some responsibility as the owner of the amphitheater. City officials have rejected the injury claims, but all the plaintiffs told the Voice that they intend to pursue the case by filing lawsuits.

The injury claims were provided to the Voice as part of a public records request. Each complaint blames the city for failing to maintain the kitchen equipment and fix gas leaks, which they allege to be responsible for the fiery explosion. As the owner of Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View is ultimately liable for the safety and maintenance of the facilities there, said attorney Mary Alexander, who is representing two of the injured workers.

"The city should have known about this they have a non-delegable duty to maintain their equipment in a safe manner," she said. "These kitchen appliances weren't hooked up right. The gas was coming out in a way that caused it to explode."

Alexander is currently leading a similar lawsuit against the city of Oakland for its role in the deadly Ghost Ship fire.

Mountain View attorneys, however, say any threats of litigation should be directed at the events-promotion company Live Nation. Under the lease for use of Shoreline Amphitheatre, Live Nation is obligated to have $5 million in liability insurance for accidents, including fires.

On the afternoon of the Google I/O fire, Pablo Ramirez and Mynor Contreras were both working as kitchen cooks at the event for Global Gourmet, a catering company hired by Google. A third plaintiff, Benjamin Rossini, was helping manage the event for Legends, a food-services company hired for the conference by Live Nation. Rossini is being represented by the Panish, Shea & Boyle law firm, while Alexander represents Ramirez and Contreras.

Claims from the two law firms differ slightly on some details of what happened. According to Rossini's claim, the Global Gourmet kitchen staff on May 18 were having trouble igniting the kitchen fryers. As they fiddled more and more with the equipment, they unintentionally allowed the gas to accumulate in the confined kitchen. Asked to help, Rossini entered the kitchen and immediately detected the gas in the air, and reportedly told everyone in the room to leave.

Yet even as it was clear the room was filled with gas, one of the workers apparently kept trying to light the burners, according to the claim filed on behalf of Ramirez and Contreras. The gas caused a small, fiery explosion, severely burning Rossini, Ramirez and Contreras.

The three victims all say they have suffered a severe physical and mental toll from the accident. Contreras, for example, said he was burned across his face, neck, chest and extremities, and is still experiencing nightmares and flashbacks from the fire.

Inspectors with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have cited multiple companies in connection with the May 18 fire, according to records obtained by the Voice. Legends Hospitality, the onsite concessionaire hired by Live Nation, was fined $8,500 for failing to immediately report the injuries, failing to display safety instructions and failing follow maintenance rules for the kitchen deep fryers. Live Nation was penalized $1,500 for safety and maintenance violations. Global Gourmet was fined $375 for safety violations.

The OSHA report determined that propane was leaking into the kitchen because one of the fryer stoves was missing a brass fitting meant to act as a gas seal. The accumulating gas was likely ignited by the pilot burner or main burner on one of the adjacent stoves, according to the report.

Rossini's attorneys initially filed a lawsuit against Global Gourmet, claiming the fire was the fault of the company and its workers who were mishandling the equipment. After learning the city was the property owner, they indicated they would expand their suit to include the city of Mountain View.

City officials have not formally reported what caused the blaze. On the day of the fire, Lynn Brown, then-spokesman at the city fire department told the Voice and other news outlets that six people, not three, were injured in the food stand fire. He promised more details would be made available in a press release, but it was never sent out. Google officials and the plaintiff attorneys both say only three people were injured.

The city of Mountain View has declined to release records from their investigation of the food stand fire, saying it is a privileged record, especially now with the threat of litigation.

This story was updated to include information from OSHA.

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