Lance and Carla Hoffman, the young couple severely burned in the 2008 Tea Fire, have formally agreed to a settlement of $6 million with the owner of the Tea Garden property, where the fire is believed to have originated. The Hoffmans have combined medical bills in excess of $4.6 million, according to their attorney. The settlement was finalized after the property’s owner, Mary Robinson and the Mary K. Robinson Living Trust, conducted her own investigation and agreed to pay the full amount the Hoffmans were asking. The couple will split the sum with a homeowner who lost a house in the Tea Fire, as well as an insurance company that had to pay for property damage. But it is likely the bulk of the settlement will go to the couple. The Hoffmans previously settled with the owner of their rental property for $1 million.
They were both 29 years old at the time of the tragedy, in which they suffered third degree burns over most of their bodies. They only had minutes to flee their home, but access to their rental property “was in such disrepair that Lance and Carla stumbled and fell on the way to their car and were unable to traverse the ¼ mile path to their car before they were overcome by the fire,” court filings read. The two eventually made it to a fire station and were airlifted to the University of California Irvine Regional Burn Center where they stayed for an extended period of time. In addition to the dozens of procedures they have already undergone, the two still face further medical treatment.
The Tea Garden had long been a place where young people went to have bonfires and parties. The Hoffmans said that Robinson knew or should have known these activities were taking place and failed to take measures against them in a known high-risk fire area. The 10 people alleged to have started the Tea Fire were charged with criminal trespassing and making a bonfire without a permit. The latter charge was dropped as part of a plea deal with all defendants, nine of whom were 18- to 22-year-olds and Santa Barbara City College students at the time.
The DA’s Office said it would be unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a bonfire the group had at the Tea Garden — more than 12 hours prior to the start of the Tea Fire — sparked the blaze that damaged or destroyed more than 200 homes. A civil lawsuit against the 10 continues, according to the Hoffmans’ attorney, David Nye, who said the couple could get $2 million to $3 million more from that action.