Hawaii School Settles with Drowned Boy’s Family for $7.2M

By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher | April 22, 2021

The family of a 5-year-old boy who drowned during a kayaking excursion has reached a $7.2 million settlement in a lawsuit against the Hawaii private school that operated the spring break program.

In announcing the amount Monday, lawyers for the family said it’s the largest publicly disclosed settlement in Hawaii for the death of a child.

Alaric Chiu’s parents filed the lawsuit against Mid-Pacific Institute and its employees, alleging reckless and grossly negligent conduct caused the boy’s death.

The kindergartner was participating in the school’s spring break day camp when he drowned off Kaaawa on Oahu in 2019.

Camp counselor Maria Davis, 63, also drowned when the kayak carrying four people capsized.

Two other students escaped injury by clinging to the boat, which was designed for two people and was not equipped with life vests, according to the lawsuit.

Kayaking wasn’t listed in the program’s itinerary and was meant to be a surprise for the students, the lawsuit said.

Alaric didn’t know how to swim, it said.

“I’m hoping Alaric’s death won’t be in vain,” said his father, Lucius Chiu. “I really do hope schools, not just Hawaii but everywhere, will be more careful.”

Mid-Pacific Institute has made changes over the past two years, including a new director of the extended learning program and enhanced water-based health and safety protocols, said the school’s president, Paul Turnbull.

“This tragedy was truly heartbreaking,” Turnbull said. “We are hopeful this settlement and additional school safety protocols will help all in our community as they process these events, and move forward together.”

The boy’s parents also want the settlement to bring attention to a state law requiring children younger than 13 to wear a life vest or portable flotation device on any watercraft, their lawyers said.

“Sadly, the law has historically undervalued claims by children, because the law places a lot of weight on ‘economic’ losses like ‘earning history,’ which do not ordinarily exist for a child,” said James Bickerton, one of the family’s lawyers. “However, the Chius rejected any lower figure and only accepted this sum because it was large enough to send a strong message to other educational institutions and businesses that they must do what is necessary to ensure children’s safety, or the consequences will be severe.”

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