Beekeeper to pay sting bill

LIHUE — A Wailua Homesteads man allergic to bees will have his hospital bill paid by his beekeeping neighbor, a judge ruled on Monday.

The out-of-pocket expense for Luis Soltren, who was taken to Wilcox Memorial Hospital in an ambulance last year after being stung by a bee, will be covered by his next door neighbor, Jesse Castro — $224.

“There’s some risk there,” Judge Sara Silverman said before issuing her ruling about the pitfalls that can come with raising bees. “They can’t be totally controlled.”

Silverman also awarded Sultran court costs, fees and $2,457 for his share on a fence he constructed between neighbors’ properties.

But it was the issue of whether a beekeeper could be held accountable for a bee sting that made the Kauai issue go national — including a write up in the USA Today.

Soltren, stung at his home on June 15, 2014, said his allergy to bees is so severe there isn’t a difference between their stingers and a bullet. He said he was happy with the judge’s decision and it showed that everyone needs to be held accountable, including a Kauai police officer, which Castro is.

“It shows that no matter who you are, you’re not above the law,” Soltren said outside of the 5th Circuit Court House, adding that the issue wasn’t about the financial payback, but to represent “the average guy” in the small claims case.

Castro’s defense said it wasn’t his honey bees who stung Soltren. Castro testified earlier it was after the sting he learned his neighbor was allergic. He then made plans to remove the bees, which Soltren had complained about to the county for being unpermitted in the residential neighborhood.

Castro’s attorney, Patrick Childs, said the Wailua Homesteads was a well-known place for keeping bees, and that testimony said Castro’s bees weren’t swarming or attacking when Soltren was stung.

In fact, it was what Childs asked witness and beekeeper James “Jimmy” Torio, who helped trained Castro’s partner in beekeeping.

Is there any way to prove what bee stung Soltren? Childs asked.

“There is no way, you can’t,” Torio replied.

“There’s no evidence whatsoever,” Childs said of proving whose bees were responsible. “I’d suggest everyone on this island knows that the Homesteads are a very furtile area for bees.”

Small claims cases seek damages up to $5,000. Monday’s case resumed from a hearing in April. It picked up in the same manner, with Soltren representing himself and receiving repeated reminders from the judge not to argue with witnesses or belabor topics.

Soltren, who sold Castro his property in 1999, thanked the judge for her patience after the ruling. He told TGI that he might have fumbled with courtroom protocol and said some “stupid things,” but he had the truth on his side and that’s why he came out on top.

“This is about doing what’s right,” Soltren said. “That’s why I’m happy.”

Childs called the judge’s decision disappointing, but not one that would be groundbreaking in the beekeeping community.

“It’s not much money, it’s not the $16,000 (Soltren) wanted,” he said. It’s “small claims. You can’t create a precedent in small claims.”

As for the fence, Soltren claimed his neighbors renegged on paying their half of a fence Soltren put up between the properties. She took the difference between a bid and an another estimate and cut that in half for amount owned.

But besides the 2014 stinging, Soltren said he was stung originally in 2011 and that Castro knew of his allergy then, which Castro denied.

Asked if beekeepers should read into the ruling, Childs said “you really shouldn’t.”

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