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Judge Issues Tentative Ruling in Lawsuit Filed By Couple Burned in Tea Fire

All but one of Lance and Carla Hoffman’s claims in the complaint are upheld against the owner of the Tea Garden and 10 former SBCC students

A judge issued a tentative ruling Monday in a lawsuit filed by the couple burned in the November 2008 Tea Fire against the property owner of the Tea Garden and the 10 former SBCC students who faced related misdemeanor charges.

Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Colleen Sterne upheld all but one of Lance and Carla Hoffman’s claims in the complaint.

The Tea Fire destroyed 230 homes in the Montecito and Santa Barbara foothills and severely burned the Hoffmans as they fled their home on Mountain Drive. They were the only people injured in the fire.

The Hoffmans sued the 10 who were SBCC students at the time for gross negligence, negligence and negligence per se.

The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office never filed charges against the students for starting the Tea Fire itself, but they all pleaded not guilty to charges of trespassing and starting a campfire without permission.

In the lawsuit, the Hoffmans sued Mary Robinson and the Mary Robinson Living Trust, the Tea Garden’s owner, alleging that Robinson knew or should have known people had access to the property and started fires and drank, among other activities. The Hoffmans have sued for negligence, public nuisance, private nuisance and premises liability. Sterne dismissed the claim of negligence per se.

Sterne noted in her ruling that Robinson said the living trust is not a legal entity and can’t sue or be sued, but since the issue wasn’t brought up in the motion, it wasn’t discussed in court or in the ruling.

The other claims survive the pleading stage and factual issues will be dealt with after discovery, Sterne said. A case management conference is scheduled for June 13.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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