Tragedies remind us of the heavy weight of responsibility carried by corporations, particularly utilities, which hold the power to safeguard lives or unwittingly wreak devastation. The recent wildfire tragedy in Lahaina, spearheaded by alleged negligence from Hawaiian Electric Company, is a chilling testimony to this.
A Breach of Duty
On August 8th, an unprecedented tragedy struck Maui County. Winds, driven by the nearby Hurricane Dora, intensified, taking down at least 30 power poles in West Maui. The outcome? At least 115 souls lost to the raging fires, making it the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century. While nature played its part, Maui County alleges that the primary onus rests on the Hawaiian Electric Company for their apparent negligence in failing to shut off power amidst evident danger.
Witness accounts and video footages strongly indicate sparks from power lines as the catalysts that kindled the raging fires. The very imagery of residents jumping into water, trying desperately to evade the inferno, is haunting.
The Duty of Care
Every utility has an inherent duty to ensure the safety and well-being of the communities it serves. This extends beyond just providing consistent services; it means anticipating potential hazards and acting preemptively. The lawsuit emphasizes this duty, pointing out the utility’s responsibility to maintain and repair electric transmission lines, utility poles, and to diligently manage vegetation to prevent dangerous contact with power equipment.
The Prevention Paradox
What makes this tragedy even more heart-wrenching is the belief that it could have been prevented. Other major utilities, like Southern California Edison Company and Pacific Gas & Electric, have protocols to shut off power during extreme windstorms, a procedure seemingly missing from Hawaiian Electric’s playbook. This begs the question: could the dire consequences in Lahaina have been sidestepped with such a protocol?
Learning from Past Mistakes
It’s worth noting that utility-driven fires aren’t an anomaly. In 2018, neglected equipment from Pacific Gas & Electric led to a fire that nearly obliterated Paradise, California, resulting in 84 counts of manslaughter. Similarly, in Oregon, PacifiCorp was deemed responsible for fires during Labor Day weekend in 2020, leading to massive payouts.
At OnderLaw, we firmly believe in the principle of accountability. When corporations, big or small, fail to uphold their responsibilities, they must be held to account. For the people of Maui, no legal action can truly compensate for the loss of loved ones, homes, and cherished memories. However, ensuring that corporations like Hawaiian Electric take responsibility and are made to implement rigorous safety measures is a step toward preventing such future tragedies.
As advocates for justice, we encourage other victims of such negligence to seek redress. It’s not just about compensation; it’s about ensuring that corporations prioritize safety over profits. Let Lahaina be the last of such tragedies. If you or a loved one have been affected by the devastating fires in Hawaii, contact OnderLaw today for your free, no-obligation consultation.