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Maui County And State Of Hawaii Sued Over Maui Fire In First Suit To Blame The Government


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A lawsuit filed Monday alleges that local officials’ failure to sound alarms during the fire that ravaged the Hawaiian towns of Lahaina and Kula last month led to the unnecessary death of the plaintiff’s daughter— the first legal motion to blame Maui County or the state of Hawaii for deaths related to the fire.

Key Facts

The lawsuit, filed by Harold Wells in Hawaii state court, alleges that Rebecca Rans, Wells’ daughter who died in the fire, could’ve been saved had Maui County and the State of Hawaii sounded alarms to warn residents of the fires.

Maui County officials have said they didn’t sound the alarms because they were concerned people would confuse them with tsunami warnings and flee to higher ground where the fire was worse.

The lawsuit addresses this argument, saying “such logic cannot stand,” arguing that fleeing residents would’ve clearly seen the flames and smoke.

The lawsuit also argues that the governmental entities failed to address growing fire risks in Maui by enacting better regulations on electrical infrastructure that started the initial flames or managing the vegetation that spread the fire correctly—it specifically cites a plot of land owned by Maui County that allegedly fed the flames that burned down Rans’ home.

The lawsuit also names as a defendant utility company Hawaiian Electric, which has already been sued multiple times and has acknowledged that its downed electric poles started the initial blaze, but refutes that it is responsible for the full fire.

Hawaii Attorney General Anne E. Lopez’s office told Forbes, “The Department of the Attorney General was just served with the complaint this morning, and we are in the process of reviewing it.” (Forbes has also reached out to Maui County for comment.)

Key Background

The fire began August 8 and killed at least 115 people, with over a thousand more still missing, according to local officials. It was the deadliest fire in Hawaii’s history and the deadliest in the U.S. in over a century. The fire also razed more than 2,500 acres in Lahaina and Kula, claiming several historic structures in the former capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

News Peg

This lawsuit joins a flurry of suits filed in the aftermath of the fire. Hawaiian Electric is facing several of those, including one from Maui County, which now finds itself as a codefendant of the company. In its lawsuit, which was filed last month, Maui County alleges that Hawaiian Electric’s electric poles fell and ignited the fire. Hawaiian Electric has since responded, acknowledging that its infrastructure caused the initial blaze, but blaming the county’s fire department for failing to put the fire out properly, leading to what it described as a second more deadly fire. Hawaiian Electric is also being sued in San Francisco federal court Thursday by the company’s shareholders. Another suit, filed by a family from Lahaina, accused Hawaiian Electric of “negligent and reckless operation” of its infrastructure that “necessarily caused the Lahaina fire.”

Further Reading

Maui County Sues Hawaiian Electric Over Wildfires, Accusing It Of Negligence And Starting The Fire (Forbes)

Hawaiian Electric Denies Starting Maui Fires—Share Price Jumps 47% (Forbes)

Hawaiian Electric Accused Of Inaction Causing Maui Wildfire In Negligence Lawsuit (Forbes)



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