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Tea Fire Burn Victims Reach $6 Million Settlement

Lance and Carla Hoffman will receive money from the owner of the property, Mary K. Robinson and the Mary K. Robinson Living Trust

A Santa Barbara couple who were severely burned trying to escape the 2008 Tea Fire will receive a $6 million settlement from the owner of the property where the blaze began, their attorney said Tuesday.

Lance and Carla Hoffman reached the settlement with Mary K. Robinson and the Mary K. Robinson Living Trust, according to their attorney, David L. Nye of Santa Barbara.

The Tea Fire broke out Nov. 13, 2008, and roared through the foothills above Montecito and Santa Barbara, destroying 210 homes, and injuring more than 20 people. The couple were hurt as they tried to flee from their home near where the fire started.

The Hoffmans asserted in their lawsuit that Robinson should have known that her Tea Garden property was being used by trespassers, and taken steps to prevent such visitors from creating dangerous situations for nearby residents.

Ten people, most of them Santa Barbara City College students, were investigated for possibly starting the blaze by leaving a bonfire that was not fully extinguished, but they were never charged directly with starting the fire. Most pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of trespassing and having an illegal bonfire.

Civil lawsuits seeking another $2.5 million are still pending against the students, Nye said. Negotiations are continuing with some of the students who have attorneys and insurance coverage, Nye said, adding that others have filed for bankruptcy.

The Hoffmans received $1 million in an earlier settlement with the owner of the property where they lived, according to Nye.

“I’m very pleased with the settlement, and although I realize it’s a big number, the number really pales in comparison to what our clients have gone through and what they are going to go through,” Nye said.

“It’s important to them,” he added. “It acknowledges some responsibility from the Tea Garden owners.”

Both Hoffmans are continuing to have medical procedures to address their injuries, Nye said, noting that their medical bills to date exceed $4.6 million. Lance Hoffman is attending school at Santa Barbara City College, and Carla Hoffman has returned to work — part time — at a local comic-book store, he said.

“They are doing better than I would have expected,” Nye said. “They’re trying to get their lives somewhat back to normal. They are very strong and resilient people.”

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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