The devastating Hawaii wildfires prompted a groundbreaking lawsuit filed by Harold Wells, whose daughter lost her life in the inferno.
Wells took an unconventional approach by targeting three major landowners, even though the fire did not originate on their properties and they were not accused of igniting it. His argument centers on their responsibility for allowing invasive grass species to flourish on their lands, exacerbating the fire’s spread.
This lawsuit has the potential to establish a precedent in holding property owners accountable for fire damages, a pressing concern in an era defined by climate change and escalating wildfire risks. Historically, wildfire victims have faced difficulties in holding landowners accountable, even when fires originated on their properties.
The defendants named in the lawsuit are the governments of Hawaii and Maui County, as well as Kamehameha Schools, Hawaii’s largest private landowner. Wells contends that maintaining extensive dry vegetation in a fire-prone area is inherently hazardous, akin to storing explosives. If the court concurs with this notion, the defendants could be held strictly liable, obviating the need to prove negligence or fire ignition on their part.
Harold Wells seeks damages covering funeral expenses and emotional distress. Similar legal action has been initiated by his lawyers on behalf of the children of his daughter’s partner, who also perished in the fire.
In addition to suing the landowners, Wells’ legal team is pursuing legal action against Hawaiian Electric, alleging negligence in maintaining power lines that purportedly initiated the fire. Hawaiian Electric Company contends that while one fire was caused by its downed wires, it was promptly extinguished, and power was shut off hours before a separate, more destructive fire began.
The financial repercussions of the disaster are staggering, with insured losses projected to surpass $3 billion, exceeding the shareholders’ equity of Hawaiian Electric. As a result, victims are exploring potential defendants, including landowners.