The primary electric services company for Hawaii is facing at least three lawsuits as of Tuesday, Axios reported.
Hawaiian Electric, which provides electricity for 95% of the island chain’s population, did not shut off power as strong winds from the passing Hurricane Dora overtook Maui. Fires, which have killed more than 100 people, began on Aug. 8, but the exact cause is unknown.
As the search for the cause of the fire continues, Hawaiian Electric has been hit with multiple lawsuits alleging that the company bears responsibility for the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. in more than a century.
In one lawsuit filed on Aug. 12 by three Oahu-based firms against Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and the county, a Maui resident seeks a trial by jury and class-action status.
Another lawsuit filed the same day, which is also seeking a trial by jury and a class-action status, alleges that Maui Electric and Hawaiian Electric “left their power lines energized” and that “these power lines foreseeably ignited the fastmoving, deadly, and destructive Lahaina Fire, which destroyed homes, businesses, churches, schools, and historic cultural sites.”
“The fire killed scores of people and ruined hundreds — if not thousands — of lives,” added the lawsuit, filed by two law firms in Honolulu and and one in California.
One other lawsuit against the same companies is not seeking class-action status but still seeks to represent multiple clients affected by the fires. It was filed by the law firm Singleton Schreiber.
“The island of Maui is sacred land to the people who live there, their families, and their ancestors,” said managing partner Gerald Singleton in a news release. “Our goal is higher than filing a lawsuit; we want to make sure these people have their homes, their land, and their ancestry protected. For our attorneys, justice is helping each survivor rebuild their lives after this terrible tragedy. This is not a class action. We represent each client individually, as each of our clients’ damages are unique.”
Lawsuits against utility companies following fires are not unheard of. Pacific Gas and Electric in Northern California, which has been blamed for starting more than 30 fires since 2017, has been at the forefront of several such suits.
After a wildfire that began in Paradise, California, killing 84 people in 2018, PG&E ended up paying $13.5 billion to victims of the fire in a 2019 settlement. The following year, it pleaded guilty to 84 counts in an involuntary manslaughter case related to the Paradise fire.
Earlier this year, a judge ruled that PG&E would face a trial by jury for 11 felony and misdemeanor charges related to the Zogg Fire in California, which left four people dead.
Southern California Edison has faced multiple lawsuits over California wildfires and in July agreed to pay $22 million, along with two other companies, for a massive 2016 fire that began when a tree fell on power and communication lines, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Since the Maui wildfires, Hawaiian Electric Industries’ stock has dropped 30%, CNN reported Tuesday. S&P Global downgraded the company’s credit rating to BB-.
“The wildfires destroyed a significant segment of HEI’s customer base that will take many years to restore, and as such, we expect a long-term weakening in the company’s profitability measures,” S&P told CNN.
Hawaiian Electric Vice President Jim Kelly told CNN that the company’s “immediate focus is on supporting emergency response efforts on Maui and restoring power for our customers and communities as quickly as possible.”
“At this early stage, the cause of the fire has not been determined and we will work with the state and county as they conduct their review,” he said.