The widow of a landscaper who died in July after being stung by thousands of bees has filed a lawsuit against the homeowners, whose yard he was working in when he was attacked.
Attorneys for Gloria Babuca filed the lawsuit in Pima County Superior Court on Nov. 2, saying that negligence on the part of the homeowners caused the death of Babuca’s husband, 48-year-old Daniel Martinez.
On July 31, Martinez went with Eduardo Alvarez to a home in the 6600 block of South Camino de la Tierra to perform landscaping services for the homeowners, John C. and Sherilyn Ricketts, the lawsuit says.
When he arrived at the home, Martinez was stung by thousands of Africanized bees that had built two nests attached to the roof of the Ricketts’ home. The nests were exposed and visible, the lawsuit says.
Martinez died on the scene and Alvarez, who was also stung, was able to run away and refused medical treatment, according to the lawsuit.
Drexel Heights Fire District was dispatched to the scene to assist and seven firefighters were hurt or stung attempting to rescue Martinez, the lawsuit says.
Investigators learned that the two bee nests each weighed about 300 pounds and contained roughly 100,000 aggressive bees, the lawsuit says, adding that it appears that the bee nests had been growing at the home for more than a year.
“Even neighbors noted the numerous amount of bees in that neighborhood,” the lawsuit says. “Defendants as property owners had a duty to repair known dangers, and also had a duty to reasonably inspect for, discover, and correct unknown hazards in those areas of the premises that the invitees might access.”
The lawsuit claims wrongful death and gross negligence, saying that Martinez died as a direct result of the Ricketts’ “reckless, wanton and/or willful misconduct.”
The Ricketts’ failure to use reasonable care when inviting Martinez to their home, despite the “massive” bee nests, showed they acted with malice and as a result, Babuca’s lawsuit is also asking for punitive damages.
“Substantial punitive damages are necessary and appropriate to punish defendants, and to deter defendants and other homeowners from such conduct in the future,” the lawsuit says.
Babuca’s lawsuit is also asking for burial-related expenses, attorneys fees and damages in an amount to be proven at trial.
Priscilla Frisby, one of Babuca’s lawyers, knew Martinez as her landscaper and described him as a kind, hard-working man.
“He was very grateful to have work and he worked every day of the week,” Frisby said, adding that Martinez had been at her home only 10 days before his death.
Frisby said the bee nests at the Ricketts’ home were roughly 5 feet tall and neighbors had noticed an increase in bee activity in the neighborhood starting the year before.
Investigators believe the noise from the landscaping equipment Martinez and Alvarez used stirred up the bees, causing them to attack, Frisby said.
In addition to Babuca, Martinez is survived by his high school-aged son, Martin, who Frisby said has taken over his father’s landscaping duties at her home.
Babuca has a limited education and as a result, has been unable to find work, Frisby said.
“Martinez was the sole breadwinner,” Frisby said. “The family is struggling financially immensely.”
While Martinez’s son has taken on some work, he is a full-time student and intends to finish his education, said attorney Adolfo Lara, who is also representing Babuca in the lawsuit.
“Martin plans to ... do what his father expected him to do, which is pursue a college education,” Lara said. “This has devastated their lives.”
While litigation could take two to three years to complete, the family is struggling financially and emotionally, Frisby said.
“Danny left home that day at 5:30 a.m. and at 8 a.m., he was dead,” she said. “(His wife) was expecting him home for lunch.”