Under Fire: Hawaiian Electric's Legal Battle Unfolds Following Deadly Maui Wildfire

The deadliest wildfire in the U.S. in over a century has raised questions about the role of Hawaiian Electric, the utility provider serving most of Hawaii’s residents, in the destructive Lahaina wildfire that claimed at least 99 lives on Maui. A class action lawsuit has been filed by Lahaina residents against the utility company, alleging negligence and inaction during the wildfire. The suit asserts that Hawaiian Electric failed to shut off power lines despite high wind conditions and red flag warnings prior to the fire’s outbreak.

Lawsuit Allegations

The lawsuit contends that Hawaiian Electric did not implement a public power shutoff plan, a strategy used in other states to proactively disconnect power during high-risk fire conditions. Strong wind gusts toppled utility poles, complicating evacuations and leading to energized lines on the ground. The utility company acknowledged the effectiveness of power shutoffs but did not incorporate this measure into its fire mitigation plans, citing the need for electricity to support firefighting efforts.

The damages caused by the wildfire are estimated to be between $1.3 billion and $6 billion. The Hawaii Attorney General announced a review of the state’s decisions and policies in response to the fire, highlighting the lack of preparedness in emergency measures. The state’s emergency siren system, designed for natural disaster alerts, failed to activate during the fires.

Power lines have been implicated in many destructive wildfires in the U.S., and California’s PG&E has faced similar blame for numerous fires. Documents presented in the Hawaiian Electric lawsuit suggest the company studied wildfire mitigation plans from California utilities but never developed its own plan. The company’s share price plummeted, dropping over 40%, following the lawsuit.

Hawaiian Electric’s Response

Hawaiian Electric refrained from commenting on the pending litigation, focusing instead on aiding emergency response efforts and power restoration. The company previously reported plans to enhance infrastructure resilience, including placing lines underground and removing hazardous trees to reduce the risk of utility systems igniting wildfires.

The core legal issue revolves around whether Hawaiian Electric was negligent in its response to the wildfire risk. The lawsuit claims that the company disregarded effective fire prevention measures, leading to devastating consequences. To establish liability, it would need to be demonstrated that the utility provider’s actions or lack thereof directly contributed to the wildfire’s scope and impact.

Contact A Personal Injury Lawyer

If you or your loved one was injured as a result of the Maui fires, contact us to discuss your legal options. Call or text anytime at 757-233-0009 or send us an email.