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UCSB Students Get $1.6 Million in Settlement With Landlords Over 2013 Balcony Collapse

Students sued property owner, management company over the incident that happened during Deltopia street party in Isla Vista

Five UCSB students have reached a $1.6 million settlement in a lawsuit filed over injuries suffered in the collapse of a balcony at a Del Playa Drive duplex during the 2013 Deltopia street party in Isla Vista. Click to view larger
Five UCSB students have reached a $1.6 million settlement in a lawsuit filed over injuries suffered in the collapse of a balcony at a Del Playa Drive duplex during the 2013 Deltopia street party in Isla Vista.  (Photo contributed by Robert Clayton)

The managers of an Isla Vista property have settled a lawsuit with five UC Santa Barbara students who were injured in 2013 when a balcony collapsed at a Del Playa Drive house.

The settlement was reached on Sept. 21, with the defendants’ insurance companies agreeing to pay the students $1.6 million.

During Isla Vista’s annual Deltopia street party on April 3, 2013, the balcony of a residence at 6643 Del Playa Drive, the senior house of UCSB’s Beta Theta Pi fraternity, gave way under the weight of numerous partiers.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Robert Clayton, claimed that wood rot and a termite infestation, the result of property management negligence, were the causes of the collapse.

However, Ron Wolfe, president of Goleta-based rental and property management company Wolfe & Associates, told Noozhawk that overcrowding and construction flaws led to the deck failure.

The lawsuit was also brought against the Elliot Family Trust, which owns the property. 

Wolfe told Noozhawk the original lawsuit was for $11 million.

According to UCSB’s Daily Nexus student newspaper, the plaintiffs’ injuries included fractured bones and torn muscles and ligaments, and led to medical bills ranging from $6,000 to $80,000.

An estimated 20 people were on the balcony, including three of the plaintiffs. The other two plaintiffs were below it when it fell.

The property management company and property owner of a Del Playa Drive house have agreed to pay injured students $1.6 million for injuries suffered in a balcony collapse in 2013. The plaintiffs claim the accident happened due to negligence, while the property management company said it was due to overcrowding and construction flaws. Click to view larger
The property management company and property owner of a Del Playa Drive house have agreed to pay injured students $1.6 million for injuries suffered in a balcony collapse in 2013. The plaintiffs claim the accident happened due to negligence, while the property management company said it was due to overcrowding and construction flaws.  (Photo contributed by Robert Clayton)

The total number of injuries from that day isn’t known, Clayton said.

“It’s tough to know. I’m aware of at least two other people who made claims,” he told Noozhawk. 

The structure was constructed in the 1990s, and was managed by developer Ed St. George until Wolfe & Associates took over a decade ago.

Wolfe said structural engineers determined that the weight of too many party-goers snapped the deck’s connection to the house.

He added that the company was not made aware of what he said was poor original construction.

If that were the case, Clayton said, one would expect the balcony to have collapsed years before under the weight of any number of people during previous parties.

The two sides disagree about whether past termite inspections indicated that an infestation contributed to the collapse.

The Elliot Family Trust’s insurance company paid $1.5 million of the settlement, and Wolfe & Associates’ insurance company paid the other $100,000.

Absent negligence, Wolfe said, the property owner has primary insurance responsibility. He said the judge ruled there was no negligence on behalf of his company, a conclusion Clayton disputes.

That year’s Deltopia attracted an estimated 15,000 to 18,000 visitors, along with over 440 calls for service to law enforcement — numbers that have steadily dropped since.

In 2016, the community-wide daytime parties featured about 3,500 attendees.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman 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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