<b>PANIC :</b> In the moments after the balcony buckled, students scrambled to free their trapped friends.
Courtesy Photo

On the eve of trial, Wolfe & Associates ​— ​one of the South Coast’s largest property management companies ​— ​agreed to pay $1.65 million to settle a three-year-old lawsuit brought by five students who were injured when the balcony of their Isla Vista apartment collapsed during a Deltopia bash. Attorney Robert Clayton, representing the injured students, was armed with evidence indicating the balcony collapsed because of termite infestation and dry rot — conditions, Clayton insisted, owner Ronald Wolfe knew about and did nothing to fix. Wolfe’s attorney, Robert Freedman, acknowledged there was dry rot and termites but insisted the real reason the balcony fell was because 15-25 college-aged students were partying on it and that it was installed improperly when the Del Playa property was first built.

Five students were hurt during the collapse ​— ​two on the ground underneath and three up top. The worst of the injuries was a fractured pelvis. Although some of the plaintiffs will bear lasting effects from their injuries, Clayton said, none will be permanently disabled.

Had the case gone to trial, it would have pit two of the biggest landlords in Isla Vista against each other, Ronald Wolfe and Ed St. George. According to court documents, St. George built the property in question plus one next door in 1994. Clayton contended that St. George had notified Wolfe several times ​— ​in 2005 and two times in 2009 ​— ​that his property might have serious issues with wood rot because St. George’s did. Wolfe’s attorney countered there’s no record of St. George’s warning.

In 2012, the property was the subject of multiple termite inspections, at least one of which indicated problems with the balcony. And four months before the balcony collapsed, Clayton contended an insurance company inspector concluded the balcony was “below average” and felt “spongy.” That insurance company, Clayton contended, dropped coverage on the property. Freedman noted Wolfe subsequently obtained coverage from another company. Had the case gone to trial, Freedman stated, his experts would testify that the balcony was never affixed to the main structure properly, nor was it capable of handling the load of so many students.


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