Burn Victims Agree to $6 Million Settlement with Tea Garden Owner

Civil Suit Against ‘Tea Fire Ten’ Continues

Wednesday, May 2, 2012
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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.

Lance and Carla Hoffman
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Courtesy Photo

Lance and Carla Hoffman

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.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

It's terrible what happened to this couple. But it seems like injustice that the Tea Garden property owners are the ones to take the financial hit. I understand that the students who started the fire probably don't have the cash, but they're the ones who are really at fault.

Gaijin (anonymous profile)
May 2, 2012 at 4:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I agree, the ones who started the fire are the ones who should be penalized. You can't create a hazardous situation on someone's property without their knowledge, then shift the responsibility to them.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 2, 2012 at 5:04 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I would not hold the property owners responsible. We all knew we lived in a "High Fire" danger area.
My heart goes out to the couple who got burned. I remember hearing that they thought they had time to shower, before they fled. Does anyone else remember that?
I think that their anger and law suit is misdirected. What happens to the young adults who were trespassing, and playing with fire?
Those that actually caused the fire that burned our homes....?

casaluna (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2012 at 8:32 a.m. (Suggest removal)

casaluna, I don't know where you heard that, and I don't know what kind of person would start a rumor like that, but it isn't true. Here's the actual story:

Dolomush (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2012 at 10:32 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The owners of the Tea Gardens property are absolutely responsible. They were entirely neglectful of their property, allowing anyone to walk up there and light bonfires in what is well known to be a high fire area. This is known in legal speak as an attractive nuisance, same as having a swimming pool unfenced for the neighborhood kids to fall into and drown. They are lucky that the rest of the Tea Fire victims did not chose to sue them as well. Many people lost homes and prized heirlooms, many were underinsured and not able to rebuild, a whole neighborhood was destroyed. The life of this young couple will never be the same. The kids who lit the fire were stupid and bear responsibility too, but the property owners were old enough to know better.

blackpoodles (anonymous profile)
May 4, 2012 at 12:46 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Glad to know that couple got some relief to their tragedy. The Bonfire Bunch skated as we all know but there remains some unfinished business therein, I imagine. I heard in the aftermath of the Tea Fire, that some of those kids were connected to some very deep pockets. I'm sure teams of attorneys combed over the prospects for lawsuits back then and the best they could come up with were the owners of the property. It will be interesting to see, now that some financial culpability apparently has been established (does "settling" constitute precedent?...dunno, I'm not an attorney, just asking...) if more complaints are directed in that direction.

jeffchemnick (anonymous profile)
May 4, 2012 at 7:59 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Blackpoodles has it right - note also that the property owners chose to settle for the amount claimed by the Hoffmans, undoubtedly paid by their insurance carrier. We lost our home and everything we owned in the Tea Fire and wanted to file precisely these claims - we went to many different lawyers in town but none of them had the courage, commitment or concern to take on the matter - kudos to David Nye for doing so on behalf of the Hoffmans.

Justice (anonymous profile)
May 4, 2012 at 9:29 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Then Caruso should be held responsible for the delapidation of the Miramar and not rewarded with tax breaks.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 4, 2012 at 11:25 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I think it's backwards to think one should be held responsible for others TRESPASSING on their property. Sh*t...if a stranger appears in my backyard and tumbles down the muddy slope breaking his/her leg, then I think it is THAT person's fault for both being clumsy and trespassing. And yet, today, I could be held responsible for that idiot? It's a crying shame I think. A property owner should not have to think through every possible scenario that someone may do on their property. In some places you're allowed to shoot trespassers, and I'm definitely not saying that's right. But there is a middle ground here that makes sense. My property is not someone else's playground!

It is a tragedy that so many people lost so much. I had some very good friends lose EVERYTHING, and I would bet that most people in SB can say the same thing. My heart goes out to those people first and foremost. I also have some sympathy for the college kids. If they're good people, they're punishing themselves and it's something they'll carry for life. It was dumb, and we've all done dumb things. It was not malicious and that's what I always come back to. Accidents and mistakes do happen; it's very human. But I am extremely surprised that they're not the ones to pay for this poor couple's hospital bills. I think they went after the wrong people, at least as far as responsibility goes. They went after the right people as far as finances go.

Gaijin (anonymous profile)
May 4, 2012 at 1:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Gaijin, your analogy isn't accurate. The Tea Garden knew or should have known people were building bonfires on the property and didn't take steps to stop it.

I believe the Hoffmans did try to sue the students who started the fire. Unfortunately, several of them fled the country...

Dolomush (anonymous profile)
May 4, 2012 at 3:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I can't tell you how many bonfires I've been to over the years.. Not sure how they were any different than the one that happened here, with a change in weather that could have potentially ended up turning very bad like this one. Thousands if not tens of thousands of groups of kids and young adults have bonfires almost every day across the country.

I don't think it is possible to pin on any particular negligent individuals, necessarily. Even if you did, what does it accomplish? That person has to be a slave to all of the victims and rebuild all of their multi-million dollar mansions?? It's especially hard to blame all of the people at the bonfire when some of them may have chosen to retire early and had zero control over how the bonfire was to be put out. Some of them may have been invited, showed up and had no idea it was private property and had no hand in the fire itself.

As much as I think people should be responsible for their actions, I'm surprised nobody else is calling this what it is - an accident. They are kids having a bonfire, you really think anything is going to change based on the outcome of this particular case? Maybe use it as a tool to help others remember to better contain and put out their bonfires.

Personally, I'm far more concerned about the reports of pieces of errant rockets that preceded the Jesusita fire, which was later blamed on weed wackers on the trail that nobody actually heard that day. Turns out a rocket was fired from Vandenburg earlier in the day, the day the fire started. Get the taxpayers on the hook for the damages and maybe more taxpayers will begin to rethink supporting our military empire and our violent and aggressive foreign policy.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
May 4, 2012 at 4:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Are you seriously trying to claim the Jesusita fire was started by a rocket from Vandenberg?

Dolomush (anonymous profile)
May 4, 2012 at 4:19 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I'm trying to claim that it is highly plausible and was swept under the rug. Check back at the start time of the Jesusita fire, the Vandenberg launch schedule and time, and some past comments from this publication of witnesses who saw the errant rocket debris falling in the area.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
May 8, 2012 at 2:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I heard it was a North Korean rocket...

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 8, 2012 at 4:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Gaijin, there is a big difference between "a stranger (who) appears in my backyard and tumbles down the muddy slope breaking his/her leg" and knowingly allowing hundreds of people to use your property as an unsupervised playground for years and years. In the first instance, if your property is fenced, it is indeed "the person's fault for both being clumsy and trespassing." If the trespasser sets your property on fire and the fire then spreads to your neighbors' homes, you probably would not be held liable, and morally you certainly should not. But if you don't fence your property, and you knowingly allow unlawful activities to take place on it for years and years, then you do share responsibility with the trespassers if something bad happens to your neighbors as a result. And if you are the one with the money, you will be the one to pay the bill. The owners of the property are lucky if their insurance company agreed to pay the claim. They could well have denied it due to contributory negligence of the owners.

blackpoodles (anonymous profile)
May 8, 2012 at 7:41 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I have a simple mind. I think in simple terms. Last I checked, trespassing is ILLEGAL. Does the fact the individuals were trespassing not count? Oh, wait... thats SB Co, the law doesnt apply
My heart absolutely goes out to all the victims of this tragedy, including the property owners. Those individuals KNEW they were breaking the law by TRESPASSING. I have no sympathy for them, period. Also, shame on the DA who should have pursued prosecuting those trespassers!
I hope the entire community of SB, especially Orcutt is paying attention to this case.
Supervisor Gray's "perfect storm" with the Rice Ranch/open space project may very well end up not being what she envisions.

PayAttn (anonymous profile)
October 12, 2012 at 12:24 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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