County of Maui Sues Hawaiian Electric for Negligence Leading to Wildfires

August 25, 2023

The county of Maui, Hawaii, on Thursday sued Hawaiian Electric HE.N accusing the power company of acting negligently by failing to shut down its equipment despite warnings hurricane winds could knock power lines down, sparking wildfires.

The county said downed power lines started the wildfires that destroyed the historic town of Lahaina earlier this month, killing at least 115 people and displacing hundreds more.

The electric company and its subsidiary Maui Electric had a duty to manage the power lines in a safe manner and had been warned by the National Weather Service that dangerous wildfire conditions were present before they started, the county said.

The lawsuit also said multiple reports had warned of wildfire risk in the area, and the utility was aware of the danger from fires in the county during summer months when temperatures are high, winds are strong and there is little moisture.

The “severe and catastrophic” losses from the wildfires “could have easily been prevented” if the utility had implemented a plan to shut off power, the county said.

Hawaiian Electric did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit filed in state court asks for an unspecified amount in damages to compensate for losses sustained by the county during the fires, including property damage and the costs of fire suppression. Early estimates of the damage have been pegged as high as $5 billion for one of the fires, which burned through Lahaina.

The county’s lawsuit came after the utility provider’s shareholders earlier on Thursday filed their own lawsuit in a San Francisco federal court, alleging the company’s failure to disclose important information about its wildfire prevention and safety protocols.

Shareholders claimed they suffered “significant losses and damages” due to the company’s “wrongful acts and omissions, and the precipitous decline in the market value of its securities,” according to the court filing.

Shares of Hawaii’s largest utility were more than 40% down for the week. The company has lost more than half of its market value since the Aug. 8 wildfires.

An official cause of the fires has not yet been determined, but the Honolulu-based company has been blamed for them in several lawsuits filed by victims in recent days.

(Reporting by Arshreet Singh in Bengaluru and Clark Mindock in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Stephen Coates)

Photo: Wildfire wreckage is shown Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

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