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Media release

December 5th, 2016

As you may be aware, Wolfe & Associates was named in a lawsuit arising out of the failure of a second-floor deck at an Isla Vista property during the 2013 Deltopia Party. Immediately after the incident, a well-known and aggressive personal injury law firm organized a half dozen students who suffered injuries and filed a lawsuit against the property owners and Wolfe & Associates. The firm is now, for their own public relations purposes, circulating a news release that provides inaccurate and incomplete facts and circumstances.

The following facts are supported by written reports and depositions:

After significant investigations and reports by structural engineers, contractors, pest control operators, and others it was clearly determined that overloading (two beer kegs and music equipment plus approximately twenty students actively dancing on a small deck) and construction defects were the major cause of the failure of the deck.

After the deck failure, the plaintiffs’ structural engineer conducted a cursory investigation, observed some termite and dry rot damage, and quickly alleged that the deck failed due to these conditions. Subsequently, two separate expert structural engineers completed full investigations and determined that the deck failed due to overloading as well defective construction, and that termites and dry rot were not a substantial factor in the deck failure. There was very clear evidence that the dry rot and termite damage developed due to a latent defect in construction waterproofing where the deck met with the building. There was also clear evidence that “tenting” the building to address isolated termite infestations in the roof would not have prevented the deck failure.

In California, landlords have a duty to exercise reasonable care to ensure that persons are protected from any unreasonable risk of harm; as property managers we have a duty to inform owners of known dangerous conditions. All three structural experts agreed that, prior to the deck failure, the termite and dry rot damage that existed between the building and the deck were hidden from view and could not have been known by either owner or property manager. This position was also confirmed by the pest control inspector as well as an insurance underwriter. Approximately 30 days before the deck failure, a licensed building safety inspector inspected the building and specifically reported the deck was “sturdy.”

The property owner’s insurance company provided the defense for this case and ultimately negotiated a settlement to address the injuries and damages. The plaintiffs’ lawyers exaggerated the injuries, initially demanding $11 million to settle their lawsuit. After jury selection, the plaintiffs’ attorneys reduced their demand to the same amount of money offered by the insurers before the trial.

Wolfe & Associates has managed property in the Tri-Counties for more than 45 years, and we have always worked hard to serve our property owners and residents with integrity. This was a very unfortunate incident, and we deeply regret that people were injured. Risk management is inherent in property management, and we take it very seriously. Every property we manage is inspected regularly, multiple times each year, and we call upon specialists when it is warranted. These property inspections and our comprehensive recordkeeping—which detail every site visit, maintenance request, and maintenance repair—proved invaluable to the defense. Although we were prepared to factually refute plaintiff allegations, we understand and appreciate the insurance company efforts and decision to settle the lawsuit.

For more information, read the letter that our legal counsel, Robert Freedman of Tharpe & Howell, sent to the editor of the Santa Barbara News Press. Download the letter (PDF).