Family of Honolulu Firefighter Sues Over LODD

The family of a Honolulu firefighter who died last year during a water rescue training exercise, has filed suit against the City and County of Honolulu.

Clifford Meredith Rigsbee, 63, was participating in water rescue training on June 14, 2016 on the southeast shore of Oahu near Diamond Head. At the time the seas were rough. Rigsbee was riding in a sled being towed by a jet ski. After traversing a series of eight foot waves the jet ski operator looked back to find Rigsbee facedown in the water unconscious.

Rigsbee was brought to shore and transported to the hospital, but died some 60 hours later on June 16, 2016. The autopsy determined the cause of death to be a blunt force injury to the head and neck, with cervical vertebrae fractures and spinal cord injury.

Rigsbee’s son, Clifford McArthur Rigsbee, filed suit in US District Court on Monday. The complaint alleges federal jurisdiction based upon Admiralty law principles. It contains two counts, negligence and wrongful death. The complaint specifically accuses Honolulu of:

  • failing to perform a proper and adequate risk assessment for the area and sea conditions in which the RWC training and injury occurred, especially given the high-surf advisory in effect on the day of this incident and the City’s actual notice of prior injuries during RWC training;
  • failing to provide effective supervision and instead allowing the RWC training to proceed unsupervised out the view of the training commander Captain Park; and
  • failing to identify appropriate training objectives and establish appropriate safety procedures, and instead allowing the RWC training to proceed in a wave impact zone and/or while traversing waves or swells, despite the fact that wave heights were large and expected to build throughout the day.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Rigsbee v Honolulu

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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