Attorney: Civil suits settled over wildfire near Carbondale
DENVER – The fight over the County Road 100 wildfire outside of Carbondale in April 2008 might finally be extinguished.
The plaintiffs in two civil lawsuits have reached a settlement with Larry Gerbaz and 100 Road Cattle Co. LLC, according to Sander Karp, a Glenwood Springs attorney handling one of the lawsuits. Terms of the settlement are confidential.
“We were satisfied with the terms of the settlement conference,” Karp said.
Karp represents Larry Garfinkel, a fisherman who was overtaken by flames in the wildfire while on an outing near the Ranch at Roaring Fork subdivision. Garfinkel suffered severe burns to his left hand as well as to his neck and head. He testified in court last year that he thought he was going to die in the blaze. He survived after tumbling into a shallow stream while bushes around him exploded into flames.
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Garfinkel filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Denver seeking unspecified damages from Gerbaz.
A separate lawsuit was filed in Garfield County District Court by the homeowners associations of The Preserve subdivision along County Road 100 and the Ranch at Roaring Fork subdivision near Catherine Store, seeking compensation for property losses.
Karp said attorneys for all the plaintiffs, plus Holy Cross Energy, which suffered damage to its infrastructure in the fire, worked out a deal Friday with lawyers for the defendants in a settlement conference in Denver. Attorneys are working on the paperwork to reflect the settlement, he said.
James Dieterich, Gerbaz’s attorney, confirmed there was a settlement in both lawsuits. “The matter is settled with no admission of liability or fault,” he said.
Gerbaz also faced criminal charges for the wildfire, but a jury acquitted him of two counts of four-degree arson in an August trial. Authorities alleged that the wildfire started on a ranch owned by Gerbaz’s family after he burned fallen timber in a pasture.
Gerbaz burned the slash pile four days before the wildfire broke out. He said he tended the fire responsibly. Authorities alleged that high winds kicked up sparks from the ash and ignited other vegetation.
Regardless of the cause, the outcome was clear: Garfinkel was injured; about 150 homes were threatened; scores of residents were evacuated and not allowed to return to their homes that day or night; and three homes sustained minor damage.
The prosecutor in the criminal case was unable to convince the jury that the fire started on the Gerbaz property or, if it did, that it resulted from any recklessness by Gerbaz.
Karp had said at the time that the outcome in the criminal case would have little bearing on the civil litigation. Garfinkel’s lawsuit contended Gerbaz was responsible for the fire. Karp said Garfinkel has suffered permanent injury to his hand as well as pain and suffering.
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