Governor David Ige
Hawaiʻi State Legislature
District 8 - Kauaʻi, Niʻihau
Sen. Ronald D. Kouchi
District 14 - Hanalei, Princeville, Kilauea, Anahola, Kapaʻa, Wailua
Rep. Nadine K. Nakamura
District 15 - Wailuā Homesteads, Hanamāʻulu,
Līhuʻe, Puhi, Kōloa, ʻŌmaʻo
Rep. James Kunane Tokioka
District 16 - Niʻihau, Lehua, Kōloa, Waimea
Rep. Daynette (Dee) Morikawa
United States Senate
Sen. Brian Schatz
Sen. Mazie Hirono
House of Representatives
1st Congressional District
Rep. Colleen Hanabusa
2nd Congressional District
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
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Hawaiʻi Lawmakers Debate State's Responsibility on Dangerous Land
By B.J. REYES
Associated Press Writer
HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii's hiking trails lead to the scenic
beauty of the islands' lush volcanic mountains, but some of
those same trails also are risk of rockfalls
and landslides that could lead to injuries and deaths.
Eight people died and 50 others were injured in May 1999 at
Oʻahu's Sacred Falls State Park when a rockslide
sent boulders cascading onto hikers relaxing below.
Three years later a judge found the state negligent.
State officials, who have appealed the Sacred Falls ruling, say the only way
to guarantee public safety is to shut off access to possibly dangerous trails.
But short of that, state lawmakers are considering bills to
limit the state's liability in lawsuits.
A House committee in the Legislature has approved a bill to shield the state
and counties from lawsuits arising out of the public's use of
public lands. It would stipulate that government has no duty to warn
the public of dangerous conditions on unimproved public land.
In state parks, the government would simply need to post warning signs. A
state "risk assessment group" would determine
where they are needed. "This is a good middle ground," state
Attorney General Mark Bennett said of the bill.
A companion measure is pending in the Senate.
"We want to keep our state lands open," Bennett said.
"We want to be able to have the natural beauty and
natural resources of our state be available to
visitors." Bennett said the Sacred Falls case was
used as a guide in crafting the proposal.
The park drew 70,000 visitors a year to a scenic 2.2 mile hike to an 87-foot
waterfall, but has been closed since the May 9, 1999 rockfall. Dozens of
hikers were sunning themselves at the deep pool beneath the waterfall when
the landslide began 850 feet above them. Some of the ricocheting boulders
were the size of compact cars.
A lawsuit filed on behalf of 28 people, including families of four who were
killed, alleged the state was negligent in not warning visitors of
possible rockfalls, despite knowing of prior incidents, including a 1982
rockfall that killed a 4-year-old girl. Circuit Judge Dexter Del Rosario
ruled in September that the rockfall was not an act of God and said the
state was negligent of failing to provide sufficient warnings.
The state has appealed.
Bennett said the proposed bill would protect the state from such liability
in the future, although no sign would completely protect the state from
"There will always be somebody who
says, 'That sign wasn't enough,'" he said.
Others who support the bill include the Department of Land and
Natural Resources and environmental groups, including the
Sierra Club. "The recreational and wilderness
experiences on public lands should not be locked behind gates for
fear of lawsuits and liability," the Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter
said in testimony on the bill.
Opponents include the Consumer Lawyers of Hawaii. Attorney Bob Toyofuku,
representing the lawyers' group, urged lawmakers to seek more
information on negligence lawsuits filed against the state before
approving a policy change.
And some lawmakers expressed concern about the message to tourists. Democratic
Rep. Alex Sonson argued the state must do all it can to protect those who use
public lands. "Aren't we telling them that
once we post a sign we don't care what happens to you?" Sonson asked.
The Garden Island 2003-02-24
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