Bill advances to
cut states liability
in public parks
A bill that would reduce government liability for accidents at public parks and trails advanced in the state Legislature yesterday.
Department of Land & Natural Resources Director Peter Young lauded the so-called "Sacred Falls bill" as a reasonable move that will allow the state to keep parks open.
The bill (HB 1214, HD2, SD2, CD1), which was approved by a legislative conference committee, would require the state and counties to assess the natural hazards of parks and trails and post uniform signs warning the public.
It also calls for the appointment of a risk assessment working group, composed of state and county officials, to handle the task.
Young said the bill will not result in immediate changes because the risk assessment group will need several months to do its work.
He warned, however, that just because the state assesses risk and puts up signs does not mean an outdoor attraction is guaranteed safe. "People still need to be cautious when they're out there," Young said.
While the bill may not stop people injured on public lands from suing, it should improve government chances of winning the lawsuits, Young said.
In September a judge ruled that the state is liable for eight deaths and dozens of injuries caused by the Mother's Day rockslide at Sacred Falls State Park in 1999.
The ruling, which is being appealed by the state, prompted then-Gov. Ben Cayetano to warn that popular attractions such as the Manoa Falls hiking trail might have to be closed until the state Legislature passed a law to better shield the state from liability.
The bill now goes before the full House and Senate.
"We'll feel much safer and be able to open up public lands," Mike Buck, administrator of the Division of Forestry & Wildlife, said yesterday after hearing about the conference committee approval.
However, he said he does not expect Sacred Falls to be opened because of objections from native Hawaiians and area residents. But the nearby Maakua Gulch Trail, which was closed after the Sacred Falls accident because it is geologically similar, could potentially be reopened, Buck said.
"Hopefully, this will make the people's resources available to them," Young said.