- Associated Press - Friday, January 22, 2016

FAIRFIELD, Calif. (AP) - A Northern California jury has awarded five construction workers nearly $12 million in their lawsuit alleging the state transportation department failed to warn them about a potentially deadly fungus at an excavation site.

The Solano County jury on Thursday found that the California Department of Transportation concealed the presence of the fungus, which was known to be in the soil where the work was done. The crew contracted by Caltrans was moving earth and expanding a culvert in Kern County in 2008. The five sued Caltrans more than six years ago, the Daily Republic reported Friday (https://bit.ly/1PJPbcc ).

Jurors determined that Caltrans employees knew about the risks of valley fever, a debilitating, incurable disease, and that one Caltrans employee deliberately intended to deceive the five workers about the risks of it. A Caltrans spokesman said in a statement that the agency was “carefully evaluating all of its options for appeal.”

During a civil jury trial spanning four months in the court of Judge Michael Mattice, jurors learned Caltrans employees knew the Kern County project was in an area posing the “highest risk” of developing valley fever and Caltrans had a map from the Kern County health department showing places where the fungus had been previously in the soil.

Jurors also learned Caltrans had warned its employees in 2007 about the risk of valley fever spores, but that warning had never been shared with independent contractors and their employees, the newspaper reported.

Before the trial, Caltrans lawyers claimed none of its employees knew fungal spores were present at the construction site.

Two of the sickened construction company employees are disabled and unable to work, and two others who are not fully disabled require accommodations, said Peter Alfert, lead attorney who handled the lawsuit against Caltrans.

Alfert said he hoped the $11.9 million damage award would prompt Caltrans to take steps to ensure no such actions occur in the future.

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Information from: Daily Republic, https://www.dailyrepublic.com

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