Maui Wildfire Lawsuit Lawyer

The page looks at the Hawaii wildfire lawsuits lawyers are filing – and will continue to file against Hawaiian Electric. While there may be other defendants as the investigation unfolds, every Hawaii fire lawsuit has targeted Hawaiian Electric.

This new litigation will bring thousands of property damage, injury, and wrongful death claims. Hawaiian Electric is worth $4 billion.  That will unlikely be enough.

How will these lawsuits play out?  Some lawyers have filed a Lahaina Maui wildfire class action lawsuit.  This will be a good option for some victims.  For other plaintiffs, a class action lawsuit is absolutely the wrong path.

If you believe you may have a claim, call our lawyers at 800-553-8082 or get a free online consultation online.

Maui Wildfire Lawsuit Update

January 2, 2024:  A shareholder of Hawaiian has initiated a derivative lawsuit against the companies’ leadership, including executives, former executives, and board members.

This new lawsuit filed late last year in federal court in California alleges that these company leaders misrepresented their handling of safety and climate change risks. This misrepresentation was highlighted following a catastrophic wildfire in August, believed to be ignited by the utility’s power lines.

October 12, 2023: Prominent defense law firms Munger, Tolles & Olson, and Hueston Hennigan have entered the litigation involving Hawaiian Electric Co. and the state of Hawaii related to wildfires in Maui. Brad Brian of Munger Tolles, known for representing Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in previous wildfire cases, joins the legal team. This move signals a comprehensive approach by Hawaiian Electric to address potential criminal, civil, and regulatory aspects of the litigation. Meanwhile, Hueston Hennigan, alongside local counsel, is representing the state of Hawaii in the same cases. Over 35 lawsuits have been filed regarding wildfires in Maui that claimed 97 lives and destroyed over 2,200 structures in August. The litigation is being consolidated under Judge Peter Cahill in Maui, with a scheduled status conference on November 1st.

Hawaiian Electric, the primary defendant, has not yet responded in court to the allegations but has opposed subpoenas issued by plaintiffs’ lawyers, arguing that they are premature. The lawsuits involve multiple defendants, including Maui County and the trustees of the estate of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, who own and operate Kamehameha Schools. The property owner has retained legal counsel at Dentons. Additionally, plaintiffs are seeking to add more defendants, including Hawaiian Telcom and Charter Communications, as the discovery process unfolds, focusing on issues like the replacement of electric poles linked to the fires.

September 6, 2023: A lawsuit filed in Hawaii state court blames Maui County for the death of a woman during the Lahaina fire last month, alleging that the county’s failure to sound sirens and warn residents of the approaching danger resulted in the woman’s inability to escape. This lawsuit places blame on county and state governments in the aftermath of the deadliest U.S. fire in over a century. Maui officials previously claimed that using sirens would be confusing for residents. But, as the lawsuit points out, this is nonsense because what was really needed was more time for evacuation. The suit also involves Hawaiian Electric, a likely defendant in every Lahaina fire lawsuit.  This lawsuit also sues a private landowner accountable for not properly managing vegetation to mitigate fire risk.

September 5, 2023:  A new Maui fire wrongful death lawsuit has been filed on behalf of a man whose daughter tragically lost her life while attempting to flee the Lahaina fires last month has filed a lawsuit against the state of Hawaii and Maui.

The lawsuit also includes Hawaiian Electric Company Inc. as a defendant, as stated in an email. The legal action alleges that the fire blocked escape routes for the woman, leading to her unfortunate demise. The lawsuit’s objective is to establish liability for nuisance against the state, Maui County, the utility, and a landowner.

September 4, 2023: Maui wildfire lawyers are not the only ones digging into what Hawaiian Electric could have done differently. House Republicans are investigating Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc.’s role in the deadly Lahaina wildfire, which caused extensive damage and fatalities.

Lawmakers are demanding details about the wildfire’s causes to prevent similar incidents in Hawaii and other states. The inquiry focuses on a potential downed power line as the ignition source, though Hawaiian Electric denies responsibility and states power was off during the second blaze. Lawsuits have been filed alleging negligence in not simply cutting power when this wildfire was on everyone’s radar.

August 27, 2023: A number of Maui Fire action lawsuits have been filed in the last two weeks.  On August 12, dual class actions were launched in Hawaii’s state courts targeting Hawaiian Electric Company and related companies.  Additionally, one of these lawsuits has named Maui County, where the fires led to the tragic loss of nearly 100 lives and demolished over 2,200 edifices, a significant number of residences in the densely populated Lahaina. This week, another Hawaii fire lawsuit was introduced by four local residents and Maui Memories Inc., a business based in Lahaina.

August 24, 2023: Earlier today, the County of Maui filed its own civil lawsuit against Hawaiian Electric. The lawsuit accuses the utility company of negligently causing the fire by failing to shut off power on August 7th despite a red flag warning from the National Weather Service. The lawsuit also claims that Hawaiian Electric neglected safety maintenance and upgrades on its power grid infrastructure. The County is seeking compensation for damage caused to its public facilities and resources.

August 19, 2023: A second class action civil lawsuit has been filed against Hawaiian Electric accusing the company of negligently causing the devastating Maui wildfires. The lawsuit claims Hawaiian Electric power lines which fell down in the early morning hours of August 8, 2023, were the original source of the Maui fire. The complaint also cites several instances of negligence on the part of Hawaiian Electric.

August 15, 2023: The very first civil lawsuit was filed today accusing the Hawaiian Electric utility company of negligently causing or contributing to the Maui wildfires. The lawsuit, filed by a group of 5 Lahaina residents, lays the blame for the wildfire on Hawaiian Electric’s alleged failures to maintain its power grid and to shut off power to certain lines at risk of falling down.

Four Questions Our Lahaina Fire Lawyers Will Ask You

What types of claims are our Maui fire lawyers handling?  If your answer to any of these questions is yes, we can help you:

  1. Have you or anyone on your property experienced physical injuries as a result of the Maui fire?  If your answer is yes, please specify the injury and indicate whether you received medical treatment or were hospitalized for those injuries.
  2. Did the Maui fire partially or completely destroy your owned or rented home or property?  If your answer is yes, please provide the address of the damaged property, including the city, state, and zip code.
  3. Did the Maui fire partially or completely destroy your owned or rented business premises, related goods, forest products, or equipment?
  4. Was your place of employment partially or completely destroyed by the Maui fire?  If yes, please indicate whether it was partially or completely destroyed.

Background

Hawaii has recently been devastated by wildfires that caused many fatalities and caused billions in property damage. Hawaiian Electric, the biggest power utility company in the state, is now facing class action lawsuits accusing the company of negligently causing the fires by failing to take preventative measures.

According to allegations in the lawsuit, Hawaiian Electric directly contributed to the circumstances that ultimately led to the recent fires. The lawsuit details years of negligence on the utility company’s part and asserts that it deliberately refused to modernize its power delivery infrastructure to save money.

The plaintiffs’ wildfire lawsuits contend that paying to modernize and better maintain the state’s power grid would have prevented the wildfires from happening. The lawsuits are eerily similar to those filed against PG&E after that company’s negligence and cost-cutting led to wildfires in California.

So, in terms of how these Lahaina wildfire lawsuits will progress, the PG&E suit provides a roadmap of what we can expect.

About Hawaiian Electric

Hawaiian Electric Industries, Inc. is the primary electric power utility in the state. It delivers electrical power to 95% of Hawaii’s 1.4 million residents. The utility company was first formed in 1891 with just 2,500 customers.

Previously, each of Hawaii’s islands was serviced by separate power utility companies. Beginning in the late 1960s, however, these separate utility companies began to consolidate. Eventually, the biggest of the utility companies, Hawaiian Electric, acquired all the separate companies.

Hawaiian Electric produces most of its electrical power from steam-powered generators that use oil as fuel. Hawaiian Electric has previously been criticized for being slow to modernize its power production and delivery infrastructure.

Maui Wildfires

The devastating Maui wildfires began on the night of August 8, 2023, when a brush fire started in the Kula region. August is a dry season in Hawaii, and this isolated brush fire rapidly spread across the area, consuming houses, buildings, vehicles, and everything else in its path.

Over 100 people have died as a result of the Maui fire. An official investigation has already been launched and is currently underway to determine the exact causes of the fire. So far, a growing tide of scrutiny has been aimed at Hawaiian Electric, and the investigation appears to be focused on whether negligence on the part of the utility caused or contributed to the fire.

Lawsuits Against Hawaiian Electric

Four separate class action lawsuits have already been filed against Hawaiian Electric relating to the Lahaina Maui wildfires. The lawsuits accuse Hawaiian Electric of gross negligence and putting cost-cutting ahead of consumer safety. The lawsuits cite numerous documents submitted by Hawaiian Electric to public utility officials in which the company acknowledged the dangers of wildfires and the fact that downed power lines could cause wildfires when vegetation growth under the lines was not properly mitigated.

So what exactly was the problem that Hawaiian Electric failed to address? The lawsuits accuse the utility of various missteps, but one of the most basic is also one of the simplest. When high-voltage power lines go down, they ignite dry grass or shrubs they come into contact with. For that reason, utility companies should take measures to ensure that vegetation underneath these power lines is cut short. They are also supposed to build systems to prevent lines from falling. Hawaiian Electric is being accused of gross failures in both of these respects.

Just last year, in fact, Hawaiian Electric requested nearly $200 million in additional funding from the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission to improve the power grid to ensure that its power lines did not cause wildfires. The lawsuits claim that Hawaiian Electric received the additional funding but did not use it to make the power grid safer.

Hawaiian Electric is also being accused of negligence for not having a power shutoff plan for fire prevention. A power shutoff plan would have cut power to high-voltage lines in areas where high winds or other conditions threatened to topple the lines. This would have prevented the lines from igniting fires if they did fall. Hawaiian Electric did not have a shutoff plan and did not shut off power even after the fire started to spread.

Officials from the utility company insist that the investigation into the cause of the fire is still ongoing, and no determination has been made that it was related to power lines. However, lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuits against Hawaiian Electric have posted eyewitness videos taken with cell phones just a few minutes after the fire was first reported on August 8, 2023. The videos clearly show snapped power lines dangling to the ground as firefighters battle the blaze below.

The most recently filed lawsuit details prior instances in which similar negligence on the part of Hawaiian Electric caused other wildfires. In August 2018, for example, a downed power line in Maui ignited vegetation underneath the lines, leading to a fire that burned 20 homes and 2,000 acres.

This is going to come up in any Maui Lahaina wildfire lawsuit.  Despite incidents like this, the lawsuits claim that Hawaiian Electric has not spent a single dime on power pole upgrades or wildfire prevention over the last three years.  The implication is obvious – you knew of a problem and did nothing.

Federal Securities Class Action Lawsuit

A federal securities class action lawsuit has been filed in California for the least worthy victims possible: people who purchased or acquired Hawaiian Electric securities between February 28, 2019, and August 16, 2023.

The lawsuit aims to recover damages resulting from alleged violations of federal securities laws. Plaintiffs claim that Hawaiian Electric failed to have adequate measures in place to mitigate wildfire impact – which seems obvious at this point – causing its stock price to plummet after news reports revealed these deficiencies.

Plaintiffs assert that throughout the Class Period, Hawaiian Electric made misleading statements about its safety protocols and the risks posed by wildfires to Maui. As a result of these alleged actions and omissions, these investors suffered substantial losses in the value of the company’s securities.

This seems like the least of anyone’s worries at this point.

Prior Lawsuits Against PG&E Related

The recent lawsuits against Hawaiian Electric are similar to those filed against Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) following the 2018 Camp Fire in the Northern California area. That fire killed 85 people and caused billions in property damage. The lawsuits accused PG&E of gross negligence in failing to upgrade and maintain their power delivery system. Those lawsuits ultimately resulted in significant settlement amounts… and that disaster does not approach the magnitude of this one.

The fact that Hawaiian Electric is facing a very real risk of potential liability is reflected in how the stock market has reacted to the lawsuits. Shares of Hawaiian Electric have plummeted since the lawsuits were announced. Moody’s Investors Service also issued a warning to investors about the potential risk the company is facing. All three leading credit rating agencies have downgraded the utility to junk status.  Fitch Ratings suggests that the potential liabilities could exceed $3.8 billion, posing a significant threat to the company’s survival in its current form.

Alternative Liability Theories Against Hawaiian Electric 

Hawaiian property owners are utilizing a legal method previously employed by fire victims in California to obtain damages from Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc. after the devastating fires in Maui. This tactic, which eliminates the need to establish negligence, forced PG&E Corp., the largest utility in California, into bankruptcy and secured a $13.5 billion settlement for victims in 2020.

Although Hawaiian Electric and several experts suggest this method is untested in Hawaiian courts, some property owners have initiated it. The critical question is whether Hawaiian Electric, owned by investors, is akin to a governmental body since it provides public electricity. If the answer is yes, this could provide a more straightforward route to damages, emphasizing the quasi-governmental role of Hawaiian Electric.

Inverse Condemnation Explained and Why It Matters

Hawaiian Electric placed power lines on both private and public lands, some of which were destroyed in the fires. If victims demonstrate Hawaiian Electric operated like a governmental entity, they can constitutionally seek compensation, even if the damages were accidental.

What does this mean for victims? This legal principle, termed “inverse condemnation,” lets property owners sue the government for damages. It’s related to eminent domain – a governmental power to claim private property for public projects, with corresponding compensation. Utilizing this approach, Maui’s property owners could reclaim losses without proving the utility’s recklessness, making Hawaiian Electric accountable.

Hawaii Wrongful Death Claims

We have over 100 deaths and hundreds of people still unaccounted for.  Tragically, hundreds of wrongful death lawsuits will be filed from this litigation.

Like all U.S. states, Hawaii has its own statutes governing wrongful death claims. These claims arise when the negligence or wrongful act of another causes a person’s death.  The likely target of these wrongful death lawsuits will be Hawaiian Electric.  But you can expect other defendants as the investigation unfolds.

Wrongful Death Damages Under Hawaiian Law

Damages in a wrongful death lawsuit refer to the monetary compensation that survivors or the estate may be entitled to receive. In Hawaii, damages can be divided into two categories:

  1. Economic Damages: These are tangible costs resulting from the death, such as medical bills incurred before the deceased’s death.  The biggest economic damages are lost earnings and loss of household services.
  2. Non-Economic Damages:  There are few to no economic damages in many wrongful death lawsuits. But there are damages for the loss – the misery of the loss of companionship and love from losing a loved one

Importantly, unlike many states, Hawaii does not have a cap on the amount of damages that can be awarded in a wrongful death claim. So there is not maximum jury payout survivors can receive. This will have a tangible impact on jury award and settlement amounts in a Maui wildfire lawsuit.

Getting a Maui Wildfire Lawyer

If you believe you may have a viable Maui wildfire lawsuit – either for property damage, personal injury, or wrongful death  – call our lawyers at 800-553-8082 or get a free online consultation online.

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