An Urgency to Act on Behalf of Residents of Lahaina

June 28 2024 Update 

June 11 2024 Update 

Watts Law Firm LLP Update on Lahaina Maui Wildfire Litigation

In recent developments surrounding the ongoing recovery and litigation efforts after the Lahaina wildfire, Watts Law Firm LLP continues to represent affected families and businesses with relentless dedication. As we support the community’s journey towards recovery, we want to highlight two key meetings taking place in Maui County. Additionally, we’ve summarized findings from the comprehensive timeline report released earlier this year by the Attorney General of Hawai’i.

County of Maui’s Community Engagement and Recovery Planning

The County of Maui’s Weekly Disaster Recovery Community Update Meeting will be held on June 12, 2024 at 5:00 pm and serves as a vital forum for residents to receive updates directly from key agencies like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These updates included progress on debris clearing and drinking water assessments, crucial for restoring normalcy in the community. This meeting can be streamed on the County of Maui’s Facebook page (no account needed) or viewed on Akaku Channel 53. Learn more about this meeting here. 

As part of the ongoing recovery efforts, the County of Maui has been proactive in engaging the community through a series of neighborhood planning workshops. The next meeting will be the Lahaina Town South Neighborhood Planning Workshop on June 15, 2024 at 2:30pm, at Lahainaluna High School. This session provided a platform for residents to voice their concerns and preferences, ensuring that their insights are integrated into the broader recovery strategy. These workshops are essential for shaping the future of Lahaina, with a final session scheduled to address the needs of the Historic and Business Districts. Learn more about the Lahaina Town South Neighborhood Planning Workshop here.

Insights from the Lahaina Fire Comprehensive Timeline Report

The Attorney General of Hawai’i released a critical document on April 17, 2024, titled the Lahaina Fire Comprehensive Timeline Report. This report, prepared by the Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI), details the sequence of events that led to the catastrophic fire on August 8, 2023, which claimed 101 lives. Key findings from the report reveal significant issues with communication and preparedness in the face of a major windstorm that caused widespread power line failures.

The report indicates that there was confusion about the status of the power lines during the fire, which exacerbated the situation as firefighters and police received conflicting information. This confusion hindered effective emergency responses and significantly impacted the ability to control the fire before it caused massive destruction.

Legal Implications and Ongoing Litigation

The findings from the FSRI report, the detailed chronology, and the identification of systemic failures provide a solid foundation for plaintiff arguments regarding negligence and the need for utility companies to adhere to stricter safety protocols. This information underscores the importance of our ongoing litigation efforts, which aim not only to seek justice for the victims but also to enforce changes that prevent such disasters in the future.

This update is for informational purposes only, based on publicly-available sources, and should not be considered a substitute for legal advice.

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June 3, 2024 Update

New Evidence Further Strengthens Lahaina Wildfire Litigation

As the legal proceedings intensify over the catastrophic wildfires that ravaged Lahaina, Maui, crucial new evidence has emerged, potentially pivotal in the case against Hawaiian Electric Company, Hawaii Electric Light Company, and Maui Electric Company (HECO). Attorneys and co-counsel Mikal Watts and Jan Apo, representing hundreds of wildfire survivors, have recently unveiled significant details that shed light on the origins of the fire last August. This new information could play a key role in holding those responsible accountable and advancing the pursuit of justice for the impacted community.

Apo, a Lahaina native, presented a piece of fulgurite, a substance formed when electricity strikes soil, which was found near Lahaina Intermediate School. “This proves that the electricity hit the ground … when the power lines broke and fell to the ground,” Apo stated to local reporters at Hawaii News Now, proving the role of powered and defective electrical infrastructure in sparking the blaze. 

Additionally, video evidence from a local resident captures the moment the power lines, initially de-energized, were re-energized while in contact with dry brush, igniting the fire. This evidence, combined with further data gathered by plaintiff attorneys with the support of wildfire survivors and expert investigators, significantly strengthens the case against the defendants and adds urgency to the ongoing legal efforts.

Personal Loss and Collective Resolve

The lawsuit has transformed into a deeply personal mission for attorneys Mikal Watts and Jan Apo, as well as for their clients. For Apo, the tragedy is not just a professional battle; it is a profound personal struggle. He himself is a plaintiff in the litigation, grappling with immense losses that have left deep scars. “We lost 10 family homes. Ten family homes have burned down. One of my cousins did not make it out of the fire,” Apo revealed. This catastrophe wiped out generations of memories and left a void in the community that cannot be filled.

The emotional toll extends beyond the physical destruction, affecting the very fabric of the community. Apo, Watts, and their legal teams are dedicated to advocating for the survivors, striving to secure the support needed to rebuild lives and restore some semblance of normalcy. Despite their determined efforts, they recognize the painful reality: some losses are beyond recovery, irreplaceable and forever mourned. This legal battle is fueled by a commitment not only to seek justice but also to mend the community’s spirit, acknowledging the indelible impact of the tragedy on each survivor’s life.

Ongoing Legal Efforts Continue In Lahaina

Attorneys continue to fight for justice for those affected by the wildfires, bolstered by new evidence that strengthens their case against the defendants. This latest update underscores the importance of holding utility providers accountable and ensuring robust safety measures to prevent future disasters. As this case progresses, we remain dedicated to supporting our community and seeking justice for all those affected by the Lahaina wildfires.

Please note that this update is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

 

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August 23, 2023 Update

In the wake of the devastating fires in Lahaina, Maui, Hawai’i, the true anguish lies not in the loss of buildings or property but in the profound grief and disorientation of its residents, many of whom have deep generational ties to the island. 

Amidst the chaos, residents feel powerless as they are grappling with the basics – searching for essentials, hoping for news of loved ones, and trying to come to terms with a world that has abruptly shifted. The vast majority of stories emerging from Lahaina cater to an external audience, providing a detached, impersonal perspective of the disaster. For the true Lahaina families, they’re not just mourning the physical structures; they’re mourning their history, their memories, and a place that’s been a part of their identity for generations. 

The real Lahaina – the spirit, the community, the legacy – resides in its people. As the survivors begin to rebuild, they carry with them the spirit of Lahaina and a certain resilience that defines it.

Documenting Video Evidence and Stories of Survivors

In the face of such devastation, the urgency to act becomes clear. While Lahaina’s residents and first responders deal with the immediate aftermath, there’s a pressing need to gather concrete evidence of what led to this tragedy. The tales of survivors are crucial, but so is the physical proof of the disaster’s causes. As Lahaina’s community gears up to rebuild, they’re backed by determined advocates, ready to bring together both personal narratives and critical evidence.

Mikal C. Watts of Watts Law Firm LLP is nationally recognized for his vast experience in wildfire litigation across the United States. Mikal draws from his extensive background that includes representation of survivors from the Dixie Wildfire, Holiday Farm Fire, McBride Fire, McKinney Fire, and others. Notably, Mikal was a lead counsel for the monumental $13.5 billion settlement that covered the Camp Fire in 2018; the Tubbs Fire in 2017; the Butte Fire in 2015; and the Ghost Ship Fire in Oakland in 2016. Based on his and his team of investigators’ findings in Hawai’i, it appears that damaged equipment owned by Hawaiian Electric might have ignited the Maui fire that destroyed Lahaina.

On the ground in Maui, Mikal was quoted by the Associated Press: “All evidence – videos, witness accounts, burn progression, and utility equipment remaining –  points to Hawaiian Electric’s equipment being the ignition source of the fire that devastated Lahaina.” Mikal told the AP he is “collecting contemporaneously filmed videos,” and that “there is credible evidence, captured on video, that at least one of the power line ignition sources occurred when trees fell into a Hawaiian Electric power line.”

Mikal knows that while the survivors and first responders continue to deal with the immediate aftermath of this catastrophe, he and his team of attorneys can start the investigation over who is responsible for this massive destruction. He knows that it is essential for residents’ stories and losses to be documented. He wants to be sure evidence of the damaged power lines be preserved. He wants to ensure that the world can truly see what was lost in this needless destruction. He wants to know who must answer to the residents of Lahaina as they rebuild their lives and community. 

Speaking Truth to Power with the Survivors of the Lahaina Fires

Watts Law Firm LLP is filing a lawsuit against negligent utility electric companies and any others found to be at fault on behalf of the residents affected by the fire. 

We are alleging that the fire was the foreseeable result of negligence by the utility electric company and other parties responsible for operations and maintenance of the power lines, infrastructure and surrounding vegetation. This resulting fire led to the destruction of Lahaina, the death of many individuals, and the devastation of numerous homes and businesses. 

Hawaiian Electric has the responsibility to ensure their electrical equipment, such as power poles, lines, and transformers, were properly designed, maintained, and operated. This included having a power shut off plan and turning off power during high-risk conditions, as well as managing vegetation to prevent it from coming into contact with power equipment. Our lawsuit alleges Hawaiian Electric failed in these duties. 

In the turbulent wake of a fire, it’s entirely understandable that one’s first thoughts aren’t about documenting the aftermath. The immediate concerns likely center around safety, finding shelter, clean water and other essential supplies for loved ones. However, preserving evidence can become pivotal as time unfolds. If and when possible, people should use their cell phones to photograph and video record as much as they can. 

We recognize that, in such dire circumstances, conserving cell phone batteries – especially when power outages continue – is paramount. Yet, if feasible, sparing even a few moments to capture pictures and video can significantly aid future claims or inquiries. Such a presence of mind in these moments, though not easy, can make a world of difference down the line. Even a brief video of power lines, or snapshots capturing the extent of damages to homes and buildings, can provide invaluable evidence later on. 

Empowering A Community to Reclaim Its Future

Lahaina’s spirit cannot be broken. Every community, especially one as historically rich as Lahaina, holds an intrinsic power to band together and rebuild in the face of adversity. History is written not just by the tragedies that befall us, but by our collective strengths with which we rise with our neighbors and restore the life we once knew.

The voices of the survivors are paramount. Their stories, their losses, their memories, and their experiences are the true testimonies of the Lahaina fires. Ensuring that these stories are recognized, validated, and heard is an act of justice in its own right. It’s an acknowledgment that their experiences matter and that their pain won’t be forgotten. Through these narratives, the world will get a glimpse of not just the devastation but the strength, resilience, and unity of Lahaina’s people.

And as Lahaina’s residents come together to rebuild, it is vital that they receive the full financial compensation they deserve for their immense losses. Our mission at Watts Law Firm LLP is to serve as steadfast advocates for the people of Lahaina, ensuring that the culpable parties are held accountable. This is not just about seeking reparation; it’s about empowering a community to reclaim its future.

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FAQs About the Lahaina, Maui, Hawai’i Fire Litigation

Is the Lahaina Maui fire litigation a class action lawsuit?

Watts Law Firm LLP is not filing a class action lawsuit for this litigation. We are filing what is called mass tort litigation. Mass tort litigation, unlike a class action lawsuit, treats each individual claim differently. We understand that after a catastrophe such as this, different individuals will sustain different types of damages. Some people may have lost personal property, others entire businesses, some people may have sustained serious personal injury. Mass tort litigation allows a group of people to band together to prove liability by the defendant. This allows for more efficient and cost effective litigation for everyone involved. Then, each individual who is part of the lawsuit will have their own unique claim for damages suffered. 

Who is eligible to join our mass tort litigation regarding the Lahaina Maui fire?

We are open to discussing the lawsuit related to the Lahaina Maui fire with anyone impacted. This encompasses residents, workers, those who sustained property or business damage, individuals injured by the fire, and those mourning the loss of a loved one from this tragic event. When you reach out to us, we can explain our lawsuit, how we approach our case, our system to maintain close contact with clients and to answer any questions you may have. 

What type of evidence may be helpful for my claim after the Maui fire?

We recognize that contemplating legal action and preserving evidence may not be a priority for many at this time. However, if you’re in a position to do so, consider capturing evidence of the destruction using your cell phone or camera, and document any losses to your residence or business. This documentation can prove vital for both insurance and potential litigation claims. While no compensation can truly replace what has been lost, our objective is to ensure the responsible parties acknowledge their fault and address all financial damages.

How are litigation costs managed for the Lahaina Maui fire litigation?

Our firm will handle all litigation costs against the responsible parties. If there’s no recovery, you owe us nothing. Not all law firms can bear the substantial expenses of challenging major power utility companies. Our firm is equipped and willing to heavily invest in our clients’ cases.

Empower Your Maui Fire Claim

Costs generally fall into two categories:

  • Specific Expenses: These are related to your distinct situation, such as assessing the value of your specific losses, home and/or business. 
  • General Expenses: These general costs of litigation (including expenses such as court costs, expert witnesses) are divided equally among all clients.

We always encourage open conversations about these costs, and we’re here to guide you through each step. Most importantly, know that our dedication goes beyond finances. At the core, it’s about standing with Lahaina’s residents, understanding each unique story, and seeking justice together.

Mikal Watts

Written on behalf of Mikal Watts, and reviewed by Watts Law Firm LLP

Mikal C. Watts is Board-Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and is a Martindale-Hubbel AV Rated Lawyer.