Serious burns to young camper result in verdict against park district. $2.9 million. Alameda County.


Severe burns to 10-year-old's hand and arm in fire-pit accident.

The Case

  • Case Name: Fabio Hornischer v. East Bay Regional Park District, et al.
  • Court and Case Number: Alameda County Suiperior Court / RG13668866
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, November 19, 2015
  • Date Action was Filed: Wednesday, February 13, 2013
  • Type of Case: Dangerous Condition Public Property
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Ronni MacLaren
  • Plaintiffs:
    Fabio Hornischer, a minor
  • Defendants:
    East Bay Regional Park District
    Girl Scouts of Northern California
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $2,995,887
  • Net Verdict or Award: $2,190,887
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    East Bay Regional Park District: $2,190,887

    Girl Scouts of Northern California: defense verdict

  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: EBRPD: 65%; Adults from plaintiff's group: 35%
  • Economic Damages:

    Past Medical Expenses: $333,387

    Future Medical Expenses: $362,500

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Past General Damages: $1,000,000

    Future General Damages: $1,300,000

  • Punitive Damages:

    Not applicable.

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 4 weeks.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 3 days.
  • Jury Polls: 9-3
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: None.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Taylor & Ring LLP by David M. Ring and Robert Clayton, Los Angeles.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Cesari, Werner & Moriarty by Dennis Moriarty and Sean Moriarty, Daly City. (For East Bay Regional Park District.)

    Ropers, Majeski, Kohn & Bentley by James Hyde, San Jose. (For Girls Scouts.)

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Michael Brones, M.D., plastic surgery, Los Angeles.

    Lynn Ponton, M.D., psychiatry, San Francisco.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Kyle Bickel, M.D., plastic surgery, San Francisco.

    John Sikorski, M.D., psychiatry, San Francisco.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Brad Avrit, PE, safety engineering, Marina del Rey.

    Harry Hasegawa, MS, fire science, Livermore.

    B. Dan Kamp, Ph.D., park management, Roanoke, TX.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Dean B. Tuft, Ph.D., safety engineer, Pleasant Hill.

    David Rich, Ph.D., fire science, Berkeley.

    John Swanson, park management.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    On June 2, 2012, plaintiff was on a group outing at a campground managed by defendant East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD). Plaintiff's group rented the campsite for its exclusive use for an overnight sleepover. The campsite had a gazebo and inside the gazebo was a fire pit. EBRPD's rangers inspected the site, including the gazebo, before turning it over to plaintiff's group for their use that afternoon.

    Soon after arriving, plaintiff (age 10) and other kids were playing in the gazebo. Plaintiff slipped and his hand went into the fire pit. There were hidden burning embers still burning under a top layer of ash that made it appear as if any pre-existing fire had been extinguished. Plaintiff suffered 2nd- and 3rd-degree burns of his right hand and forearm.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Plaintiff contended that (1) EBRPD created a dangerous condition of public property by hosing down debris, including sticks, into the gazebo's drain near the fire pit and that, combined with failing to extinguish the fire in the fire pit left by some previous group, was the cause of plaintiff's injuries; and (2) the Girl Scouts were negligent for failing to completely extinguish the fire in the fire pit when their group left the campsite that morning.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    EBRPD claimed that (1) The adults in plaintiff's group were negligent for allowing plaintiff and other kids to ride scooters in the gazebo; (2) plaintiff was engaged in horseplay at the time he fell; (3) the park rangers had no reason to suspect there were hidden burning embers underneath the top layer of ash; and (4) the rangers were not required to check for such a condition.

    The Girl Scouts claimed that it was not their fire that was left burning in the fire pit and that they had taken reasonable steps to extinguish the fire in the fire pit at the time they vacated the campsite.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Plaintiff suffered 2nd- and 3rd-degree burns of his right hand and forearm, requiring multiple surgeries and skin grafts.

  • Psychological harm, including PTSD.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: $337,387
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $500,000

Additional Notes

Per defense counsel:

Prior to 2 1/2 days of jury deliberation, the following high/low agreement was reached:

The low amount awarded to plaintiff would be $1,800,000; the high amount awarded to plaintiff would be $4,000,000. The amount awarded would be funded as follows: $500,000 by EBRPD, and balance by insurance carrier(s) for Girl Scouts of Northern CA.  Both sides waived all post-trial motions including motions for fees/costs/JNOV/New Trial and/or appellate motions.