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Premier fire litigation firm Singleton Schreiber filed the first lawsuit on behalf of an individual against Hawaiian Electric Industries, Hawai’i Electric Light Company, and Maui Electric Company, alleging the utilities’ powerlines started the blaze.
The complaint alleges multiple instances of negligence, trespass, and nuisance as contributing factors of the Lahaina Fire in West Maui. The fire burned through homes, businesses, places of worship, historic sites, and more, devastating the island in an unprecedented manner. It was deemed the worst fire in the United States in more than 100 years just due to the lives lost. The Maui Emergency Management Agency estimates that it will cost $5.52 billion to rebuild.
“The island of Maui is sacred land to the people who live there, their families, and their ancestors,” said Singleton Schreiber Managing Partner Gerald Singleton. “Our goal is higher than filing a lawsuit; we want to make sure these people have their homes, their land, and their ancestry protected. For our attorneys, justice is helping each survivor rebuild their lives after this terrible tragedy. This is not a class action. We represent each client individually, as each of our clients’ damages are unique.”
According to the complaint, the defendants were warned about the extreme threat of wildfires as early as August 6, 2023. They also knew that deenergizing powerlines is a proven method to prevent wildfires. Still, they either left their powerlines energized or, after deenergizing them, re-energized them too soon.
The following factors also contributed to the poorly made decisions of the utility companies:
- The nature of their utility infrastructure, which was intended, designed, and constructed to pass electricity through exposed powerlines in vegetated areas.
- Failure to maintain the proper tension in their lines to prevent sagging, which is proven to lead to fires.
- Failure to implement proper vegetation management programs to protect their lines against trees crashing into them during high winds.
The complaint further states that on August 9, 2023, the strong dry winds from Hurricane Dora came as expected. And, after months of drought, the winds predictably led to trees crashing into the defendants’ powerlines, which toppled on either August 7th or 8th, igniting surrounding vegetation in communities across Maui, including Lahaina.
“The damage looks unbelievable on television, but for the people living in Lahaina and Maui, it’s all too real,” said the firm’s lead Hawaii attorney, Col. Paul Starita (U.S. Marine Corps, Ret.). “Had these utility companies handled their equipment properly, the people of Lahaina would have been better prepped and prepared to escape the flames.”
The resulting wildfire (now known as the Lahaina Fire) turned deadly as it spread throughout Lahaina and to other areas of Maui. So far, it has burned thousands of acres and catastrophically impacted the local communities to which it spread. Lahaina has been destroyed. At least 93 people lost their lives in the fire, and the number is expected to rise as crews search scorched areas for survivors and those who lost their lives. Over 2,200 structures (including homes) have been damaged or destroyed. People’s priceless possessions as well as beloved pets or other animals were incinerated. For some, everything they had spent a lifetime earning, gathering, saving, and cherishing was lost.
“It’s truly devastating, the community has suffered such significant historical and environmental losses,” said Julia Bryant, fire litigation attorney at Singleton Schreiber. “Smoke and ash destroyed the air quality. The damage to the land and vegetation is overwhelming. Most importantly, the loss of life that the community is now grieving can never be remedied.”
The case is Darlene Gomes, Paula Jelsma, Anderson Byrne and Saif Shaban v. Hawaiian Electric Industries, Inc., Hawai’i Electric Light Company, Maui Electric Company, Second Circuit Court of State of Hawaii, District of Lahaina, Case No. 2CCV-23-0000225.
Premier Wildfire Attorneys
With over 200 employees, Singleton Schreiber has represented more than 12,000 victims of utility fires and has recovered over $2 billion in settlements and verdicts for its clients.
This is attorney advertising material. Paul Starita (7624) and Julia Bryant (11594) are licensed Hawaii attorneys who are responsible for this attorney advertising material.