Trial for death in Nuuanu finishes
Plaintiffs argue that the city is to blame for a boulder that killed their daughter
Erosion caused by water being dumped in the back yard of Patrick and Gail Onishi's home in Nuuanu resulted in a 10- to 11-ton boulder dislodging and plowing down the hillside before crashing into their home, killing their only daughter, their attorneys say.
The three-week trial in the family's lawsuit against the city wrapped up yesterday in Circuit Judge Karen Ahn's courtroom with closing arguments. The case went to the jury to deliberate.
Patrick Onishi and his family sued the city shortly after the Aug. 9, 2002, accident, alleging that the city was responsible for maintaining the drainage system on the side of Pacific Heights Road.
The ditch funneled water through a pipe under private property owned by the Vance Vaughan Revocable Trust and dumped water onto an inlet on the Onishis' property. They contend that the water flow was a significant factor in dislodging the boulder, just days after a heavy rainfall.
"It's always been for the Onishis, they want to see the city accept responsibility for their drainage system of simply dumping water in their back yard and never checking the slope to see what's going on in between," said Ann Kemp, one of the plaintiff attorneys.
Rather than spend an estimated $1.25 million to hook up the pipe to the city's drainage system -- an estimated 1.3 miles -- the city thought it would save money by dumping it on the Onishis' property, she said.
"No one should be allowed to dump water in someone's back yard to avoid spending a million dollars to put in a proper drainage system on a road they've owned for 29 years -- to avoid having to do what's right."
While no amount of money can bring their daughter back, Kemp told the jury that monetary damages are one way that the city can be held accountable for its negligence. She suggested that the jury award the family at least $1.4 million for the loss of their daughter, Dara, the pain she suffered and for the family's pain and suffering.
But city attorney Derek Mayeshiro argued that the plaintiffs failed to provide concrete evidence of exactly where the boulder came from, what caused it to dislodge and fall where it did and who exactly is to blame, if anyone.
"Incidents happen, but that doesn't mean someone was negligent," he said. "Sometimes things happen and it's no one's fault."
The city took possession of Pacific Heights Road in 1973, so it had no hand in the design of the drainage ditch and had no obligation to maintain it but did so anyway, Mayeshiro said.
He criticized the plaintiff experts who failed to obtain and analyze specific data relating to how much water the drainage ditch held, how much water flowed through it and how much erosion was caused by the water flow.
Kemp argued that even the expert hired by the Vaughan Trust, which reached a settlement with the Onishis, followed the trail apparently caused by the boulder and likened it to "following a trail of bread crumbs."
The apparent path of the boulder, according to Steven Martell, was nowhere near where the city's expert, James Kwong, said the source of the boulder was.