rockfall to receive
8 people were killed and
50 injured when nature
turned nasty at Sacred Falls
The state and its insurer will pay $8.56 million to plaintiffs of lawsuits stemming from the deadly 1999 Mother's Day rockslide at Sacred Falls State Park, under a deal announced yesterday by attorneys.
"It's nice to see the whole thing end," said Mike Forsch, of Elk Grove, Calif., whose wife, Donna Kim, 38, was killed.
The Forschs were celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary on Oahu when caught in the rockslide that killed eight people and injured 50 in one of the deadliest natural disasters in the state's history.
Forsch, who suffered a head injury in the disaster, said by telephone yesterday that he believes the plaintiffs "would have won in the end" if the state had refused their latest settlement offer. But "to sit and hang on the edge for 4 1/2 years is enough."
Circuit Judge Dexter Del Rosario ruled on Sept. 24, 2002, that the state had been negligent in failing to adequately warn visitors of the hazards of rockfalls at the popular Oahu tourist attraction. The state had been appealing the verdict prior to the court determining damages.
Attorneys Arthur Park and Larry Remillard Jr., who represent 19 people who were injured and the families of four people killed, announced the settlement yesterday at their Honolulu office.
There are a total of 32 plaintiffs. The attorneys did not disclose how the settlement will be divided among them, other than to say that it would be proportional to the injuries. Nor would they say what their fees will be. They said it was one of the largest settlements their firm has reached.
Their clients wanted "to bring this to a timely conclusion and move forward with their lives," Remillard said.
Other victims of the rockslide did not sue the state, and the statute of limitations has expired.
State Attorney General Mark Bennett said yesterday that he will recommend the settlement to the state Legislature, which must approve expenditure of $2 million.
State insurer Insurance Company of Pennsylvania, which is owned by AIG, has agreed to pay $6.56 million, the maximum under its policy, beginning in January.
A second insurer, which should have provided additional coverage for damages of more than $8.5 million, went bankrupt and insolvent, leaving the state responsible for any additional damages that might have been awarded by a court, Bennett said.
The plaintiffs had jointly vowed that if the state had not settled for the requested amount, they would await a trial on damages, Park and Remillard said.
"It was our office's collective judgment (that to settle) was in the best interest of the state," Bennett said.
Forsch, formerly a pharmaceutical salesman, said that despite two attempts to return to his old job, he was not able to do it because of memory problems caused by the accident. He now works for an engineering firm.
During his year of recuperation, Forsch could not work and had to sell his two-story home.
"We don't like to think that money is important," Forsch said, but "if the state has to pay to settle ... they're going to try not to do that again."
A law passed by the Legislature this year limits state liability in future accidents on state land, provided that uniform signs warn of the dangers.
Some residents of Hauula, where Sacred Falls is located, have said they favor limited access to the park, which has been closed since the accident.
The state Department of Land & Natural Resources, which oversees state parks and is responsible for a new risk management and signage plan for state lands, had no comment on the settlement.
"I don't think it should ever be opened again," Forsch said of Sacred Falls.
"If we'd have known the potential danger, we would not have gone" hiking there, he said. "I wouldn't have taken my worst enemy in there."