A Northern California family must pay $750,000 for a massive 2007 wildfire that destroyed papers written by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Albert Einstein, a jury decided.
The Santa Clara County jury came to its verdict last week against Margaret Pavese, her husband, Lawrence, and her father-in-law, Ernest, in a negligence lawsuit filed by San Jose State University chemistry professor Dan Straus, the San Jose Mercury News reported Tuesday.
Margaret Pavese was found responsible for starting a 75-square-mile wildfire in September 2007 after she used a metal barrel to burn paper plates and left the blaze unattended. The wildfire ended up destroying four homes and 20 outbuildings, mostly in Henry Coe State Park.
She later pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor and paid $200,000 in restitution, including $40,000 to Straus for the loss of his two small cabins, an outbuilding and a trailer.
But the lawsuit specifically addressed the contents of a safe inside one of the cabins that held dozens of pages of calculations and notes handwritten by Einstein, a friend and colleague of Straus' late father at Princeton University.
Straus' lawyer, Dean Rossi, told the Mercury News that three Pavese family members were sued because all of them knew about the barrel fire and the risks.
"We really felt we lost a historical treasure. Not only that, but it was also a connection to Dan's father," Rossi said.
David Spini, an attorney for Ernest Pavese, told the Mercury News that he plans to seek a new trial because the $750,000 award is excessive.
Margaret and Lawrence Pavese did not respond to requests for comment by the newspaper.
After the wildfire, Margaret Pavese also faced a $16 million lawsuit by the state that sought to recover the cost of fighting the blaze, but the state dropped it after the criminal case was resolved.
Straus, who still has one original Einstein document left — a 1954 poem written by the scientist congratulating Straus' parents on their new baby — said he's satisfied with the outcome.
"I'd much rather have those papers," Straus told the Mercury News. "But there has been justice."
Information from: San Jose Mercury News, http://www.sjmercury.com