Hawaii governor proposes ‘Lahaina Fund’ for victims as an alternative to lawsuits

Gov. Josh Green on Friday sought to reassure Lahaina residents that the community will rebuild when they’re ready
Published: Sep. 8, 2023 at 7:20 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 12, 2023 at 9:23 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - During his address marking one month since the Lahaina tragedy, Gov. Josh Green on Friday, repeatedly criticized lawyers who have come to the island seeking plaintiffs for lawsuits.

“This kind of opportunism and profiteering on the suffering of our people is not pono so I’m taking action to prevent it,” he said, adding that he wants to set up a special fund so that people can avoid lawsuits and get paid more quickly for their damages without having to pay legal fees.

The governor also said state Attorney General Anne Lopez is already taking actions against out-of-state solicitations for potential litigation. “She’s filing legal complaints again those who are not licensed to practice in Hawaii,” Green said. “Those are the worst vultures and they need to fly back to the mainland.”

Special Section: Maui Wildfires Disaster

Green contends the counter to lawsuits is something he dubbed the “Lahaina Fund,” which would contain potentially billions contributed by entities who might have legal liability, including HECO, Maui County and the state. Victims would file claims in return for quicker compensation if they agree not to sue.

“Usually it’s millions of dollars per individual and they may want that they may want that,” Green said.

“But I would never tell someone not to pursue litigation if that’s the road that’s better for them.”

While the tragedy has attracted some unethical lawyers, local law offices who have teamed with well-funded mainland firms say they offer the best route to compensation and justice.

Attorney Cynthia Wong is working with a San Francisco firm with experience in California wildfire cases to represent six families who lost homes and businesses after fleeing Lahaina.

“They must be able to have justice and they must have access to justice,” Wong said.

“And with a fund that’s going to be there for numerous people that where the evidence for each claim might be different. I don’t think that’s a fair way to handle the claims.

Wong’s cases list HECO and its affiliates as defendants along with the county and state governments.

Lopez’s office will defend the state in lawsuits and she says that doesn’t conflict with her role investigating what went wrong. “We are all obligated to look at the facts to analyze what happened what worked and what didn’t work and make sure that we put guardrails in place for the future so it doesn’t happen again,” she said.

Also on Friday, the attorney general said she is not going to be investigating the electric company for its role in the fire, saying her focus will be on the decisions of officials made in the morning, during and after the fire.