Maui County sues Hawaiian Electric Company for civil damages caused by wildfires
Today, the County of Maui filed a lawsuit against Maui Electric Company, Hawaiian Electric Company, Hawaiʻi Electric Light Company and Hawaiian Electric Industries for civil damages allegedly caused to the County’s public property and resources as a result of recent Maui fires, including fires in Lahaina and Kula.
The lawsuit was filed in the Second Circuit Court and the case number is 2CCV-23-0000238.
The lawsuit alleges that the electric companies acted negligently by failing to power down its electrical equipment despite a Red Flag Warning issued by the National Weather Service on Aug. 7.
The lawsuit further alleges Hawaiʻi Electric Light Company (HECO) energized and downed power lines ignited dry fuel such as grass and brush, causing the fires. The lawsuit also alleges failure to maintain the system and power grid, which caused the systemic failures starting three different fires on Aug. 8.
During a press conference last week Monday, Hawaiian Electric president and CEO Shelee Kimura responded to media questions about why the company did not power down as a precaution during the red flag warning and wildfire event.
“It’s worth noting that even in places where this has been used, it has been controversial, and it’s not universally accepted. It can be seen as creating a hardship for those customers that have medical needs that are at higher risk. So these programs, particularly for elder or other vulnerable people who have specialized medical equipment. This can be very high risk for them. So that’s why many don’t have it. It also would require coordination with first responders. And as you have probably seen, or even reported, that in Lahaina, the electricity powers the pumps that provide the water, and so that was also a critical need during that time,” said Kimura.
Kimura responded when asked for clarification if shutting off the power was not an option. “There are choices that need to be made and all of those factors play into it. And so every utility will look at that differently depending on their situation.”
Maui County stands alongside the people and communities of Lahaina and Kula to recover public resource damages and rebuild after these devastating utility-caused fires. These damages include losses to public infrastructure, fire response costs, losses to revenues, increased costs, environmental damages and losses of historical or cultural landmarks, according to a county news release.
HECO is a for-profit, investor-owned utility that trades publicly on the New York Stock Exchange that serves 95% of the Hawai’i customer base.
The fires in Lahaina and Kula burned more than 3,000 acres and destroyed more than 2,200 structures, causing damage of at least an estimated $5.5 billion, the county said.
The County is represented by Corporation Counsel Victoria J. Takayesu, Deputy Corporation Counsel Thomas Kolbe, and by outside counsel John Fiske of Baron & Budd, P.C., Ed Diab of Diab Chambers, LLP, and L. Richard Fried of Cronin, Fried, Sekiya, Kekina & Fairbanks.
Baron & Budd and Diab Chambers have been selected by public entities 95 times to recover civil damages in wildfire cases.
*This story was updated to include information provided by Hawaiian Electric during an earlier press conference on Aug. 14, 2023.