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The Maui Fires: A Legal Update

Dear Friends and Clients:

Less than two weeks have passed since the devastating Maui wildfires, which destroyed the historic town of Lahaina and claimed the lives of at least 114 individuals. Work has already commenced to repair the estimated 5.5 billion dollars' worth of property damage that the fires have caused. In addition, as of last week, lawsuits seeking financial compensation for the loss of life and property have been initiated, as well.

Among the legal actions filed last week is a proposed class action filed by Monica Eder and Rede Eder. The complaint names Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc. and its three subsidiaries—Maui Electric Co. Ltd.,Hawaiian Electric Co. Inc., and Hawaii Electric Light Co. Inc.—as the defendants. Together, these companies provide electricity to 95% of the state's residents.

Filed in federal court on August 12, 2023, the complaint alleges that Hawaiian Electric “inexcusably kept their power lines energized during forecasted high fire danger conditions.” The complaint further alleges that Hawaiian Electric’s negligence led to a downed powerline that caused one of the first fires and then contributed to the subsequent fires’ spread.

Predicting the outcome of the litigation against Hawaiian Electric is premature. However, there is already conjecture that Hawaiian Electric's responsibility for the fires might lead to the company's eventual insolvency. If this occurs, the litigation may unfold in a way similar to the lawsuits against PG&E that followed the North Bay Fires of 2017. In that situation, claims were processed and paid through a special fund, established as part of the agreed terms of PG&E's Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

At this point, the one clear fact is that the island of Maui has endured an enormous and irreplaceable loss. We extend our thoughts to the island's residents, and we will provide legal updates as the situation unfolds.


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