SoCalGas failed to provide adequate relocation assistance to a bedridden grandmother who remained in Porter Ranch for months during the gas leak, according to family members who say they intend to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Isabel Perez, 82, died last week, and family members say they believe exposure to the discharge was a factor in her health taking a turn in November.
"I know in my heart there is a connection," said daughter Michelle Ual.
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Notified of the family's assertions Thursday, the gas company planned to look into them, a spokesman said.
It would be the second suit alleging the Gas Company has responsibility for deaths of elderly women with pre-existing health conditions. In both cases, families allege their health worsened suddenly during the time the well was leaking.
A suit was filed last month on behalf of the family of Zelda Rothman, 79, who had previously been diagnosed with lung cancer and died in January. SoCalGas expressed sympathy for the Rothman family's loss and said it would "allow the judicial process to take its course."
Perez lived in the Porter Ranch rental home of her daughter and son-in-law and their five children.
Afflicted with diabetes, Perez had undergone amputations of both her lower legs, and most of the time remained in her bedroom in a hospital-type bed, her daughter said.
Last fall, like many neighbors, family members noticed a noxious odor in their neighborhood.
Perez complained of difficulty breathing and was hospitalized for several days in November, but improved enough to return home, the family said.
During that period, air quality and county public health officials were receiving hundreds of
complaints from the area. Ual said her children, ranging in age from 9 to 20, also began suffering
symptoms including nausea, headaches, and fatigue.
"I wanted to move my children so badly," Ual said.
The family sought relocation assistance offered by SoCalGas, and in December the Uals moved to two units in a Camarillo hotel, they said.
However, the hotel would not allow the hospital bed, and grandmother remained in the Porter Ranch house, her daughter coming over to be with her during the day, and a caregiver staying overnight. The Gas company agreed to cover a portion of the caregiver costs. The Uals obtained portable air filtration units for the house.
The Uals said they made it clear that they needed a three bedroom apartment or house to accommodate all eight members of the Ual family and the hospital bed, but it was never arranged.
"They went to the Gas Company repeatedly," said attorney Jackie Kruger of the Kruger Law Firm representing the Ual family. She criticized the Gas company for not doing more to meet the needs of an elderly disabled woman in a large family.
"There are options they did not pursue," Kruger said of SoCalGas.
The Gas Company ultimately relocated thousands of households before the leak was plugged in late February.
Perez's health worsened again in mid-February, and was again hospitalized. She contracted pneumonia and died March 10, the family said.
"I would have gone anywhere -- an hour, two hours a way -- had I known that this could escalate to something like this," said Eric Ual, Michelle's husband and Perez's son in law.
Eric Ual said the family trusted statements by public health officials that the reported symptoms were being caused by the odorants placed in natural case, and should not cause long-term health effects.
Now they wonder.
"There is no more long term," said Eric Ual. "She's gone."
Showing her mother's room to a visitor, Michelle Ual fought back tears.
"We took good care of her," Ual said. "I mean, the best we can."