Maui County Sues Utilities Over Wildland Fires

Maui County has filed suit against four utility companies servicing the island seeking damages arising out of the devastation wildland fires that occurred earlier this month. The suit names Maui Electric Company, Limited, Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc., Hawaiʻi Electric Light Company, Inc., and Hawaiian Electric Industries, Inc. as defendants.

This is the second suit we are tracking against the same four utilities arising out of the fires that have claimed over 115 lives and devastated the city of Lahaina. The earlier suit was filed as a class action in federal court. Maui County opted to file a separate action in Hawaii Circuit Court for the Second Judicial Circuit.

The suit seeks damages for three fires: the Lahaina Fire, the Kula Fire, and the Olinda Fire. It alleges negligence, gross negligence, nuisance, strict liability for ultra-hazardous activity, and trespass. The county is seeking compensation for:

  • loss of natural resources, open space, and environmental assets; emergency response and fire suppression costs; loss of tax revenues, including but not limited to property, sales, and transient occupancy taxes; losses from impacts to business-like activities; debris removal costs; staff time and labor costs; damage to infrastructure, including but not limited to roads, sidewalks, water, stormwater, sewer systems, culverts, and other public-entity owned infrastructure; damages related to soil erosion and loss of soil stability and productivity; loss of trees; damages related to water contamination including water quality preservation and correction expenses; loss of water storage; loss of aesthetic value; and, other significant damages and losses unique to public entities.

The allegations centers upon the utilities’ failure to prevent the fires either through upgraded and safer transmission equipment, better vegetation control around wires, and leaving wires energized despite red flag conditions with hurricane force winds predicted.

Here is a copy of the complaint.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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