The Lahaina wildfires devastated Maui in August, killing over 100 people and destroying some 2,000 acres. Evidence is now emerging that negligence may have caused or worsened the Maui wildfires. In response, attorneys are filing claims against various parties accusing them of being responsible. As estimated economic losses approach $6 billion dollars, victims are hoping the courts can provide some measure of relief.
Who Is Responsible for the Maui Wildfires?
Various entities, primarily utility companies, have been accused of playing some role in the Lahaina wildfires. A major target at this time is Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO). While the cause is still under investigation, it is known that HECO did not have a severe weather shutdown plan. Other power companies in areas where wildfires are common do have such a plan. This may point to negligence.
HECO has acknowledged that its power lines started the wildfires. When power lines fall over, fires can start. Downed electric poles, faulty transmission equipment, and live wires can easily trigger fires. High winds and dry conditions only add to the problem. Despite this, HECO argues that firefighters were to blame for not better containing the blaze.
There is precedence for holding power companies responsible when their lines cause fires. Power companies in California, for example, have burned more than one million acres. Meanwhile, approximately $10 billion in settlements have been reached with these utilities.
Why Might HECO Be Liable?
Last year, HECO applied to the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission for a $189.7 million climate change threat initiative. This included a proposed rate hike to its customers. The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission denied the request.
Notably, however, the request included wildfire mitigation efforts that could have lessened the severity of the recent wildfires. It may have even prevented the wildfires altogether. HECO’s application therefore recognized a significant risk of its power lines sparking a wildfire. Its acknowledgment that the lines did in fact trigger the blaze raises even more legal issues.
The question then becomes: since the utilities commission denied the initiative, could HECO have done anything? Although the company wanted a rate hike, some of its initiative could have been implemented without one. This could have protected property on Maui, HECO’s own equipment, and the company’s shareholders.
Tragically, inaction by HECO arguably set in place conditions that allowed the Lahaina wildfires to be so devastating. The argument is that HECO was well aware of what was coming, or should have been. But it didn’t prepare for the worst.
Could the Power Have Been Shut Down?
One of the steps that HECO arguably could have taken was to implement a power shutdown plan. California power companies learned of the importance of this the hard way with its wildfires. Power lines with the greatest potential to fall over and spark a fire could have been shut down when necessary. If a shutdown plan had been implemented, perhaps the pain and loss experienced by so many could have been avoided.
For its part, HECO has defended its decision to not shut down power. The company claims that doing so would have prevented water pumps, necessary for fighting fires, from operating. But fire hydrants would not have needed to operate had a massive wildfire not first been started.
Can HECO Be Held Liable? Let Us Review Your Case
As allegations against HECO mount and more evidence is uncovered, the extent of its role in the wildfires will become clear. Litigation is pending against HECO and others over potential negligence. Were you or a loved one harmed by the Maui wildfires?