Saturday, Feb. 04, 2023|
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Two Hilo women are suing the state, claiming its negligence resulted in their injuries when the car they were in struck a boulder on Highway 19 about 20 miles north of Hilo four years ago.
Honolulu attorney Arthur Park filed the civil lawsuit on behalf of Helene A. Hayselden and Joan S. Mayo on Monday in Hilo Circuit Court, seeking unspecified damages.
According to the complaint, on Feb. 24, 2013, at about 5 a.m., Mayo was driving a red 2013 Suzuki SX4 north on Highway 19 when she took a blind curve in the dark at Maulua Gulch between mileposts 21 and 22 and struck a boulder and other rockslide debris.
“They were just making that first turn and a boulder is sitting in the middle of the road, in the dark, and there’s no streetlights there …,” Park said Wednesday. “They were belted in, all that, but when you get stopped abruptly, it’s like being rear-ended.”
The suit alleges that Mayo and Hayselden, her front-seat passenger, were seriously injured in the crash.
“One of them had to have neck surgery, ultimately, and the other had connective tissue (damage), like whiplash,” Park said. “She still has permanent symptoms.”
Park said he and his clients haven’t discussed how much money they’re seeking.
“We’re just looking for fair compensation for their injuries,” he said.
The suit claims the state was negligent because it failed to “design, construct and maintain the subject highway in a reasonably safe condition prior to the subject crash” — including not having “a routine, ongoing coordinated system of rockfall mitigation and rockfall removal from the roadway …”
It also alleges the state “knew and/or reasonably should have known that motorists drove on the subject highway 24 hours a day and relied on the state … to keep the highway reasonably free from rocks and related debris and reasonably safe for travel at all times,” and “boulders and rocks of up to two feet or more in diameter and/or other debris were regularly falling onto Route 19 in and around the Maulua, Laupahoehoe and Kaawalii Gulches.”
According to the suit, the state has known about the rockfall hazards “since 1994-1995 because the … Legislature has regularly appropriated funds for rockfall mitigation since this time for this and other roadways.”
The suit states those appropriations included:
• $300,000 for fiscal year 1996-97 “for design and the determination of alternatives, estimated costs, and recommendations for rockfall protection” at the three Highway 19 horseshoe gulches.
• $500,000 for FY 1997-98 and $3.5 million in fiscal year 1998-99 “for land acquisition and construction of slope protection” in the gulches.
• $10 million for FY 2005-06 “for construction of slope protection” in the gulches.
• $1 million for FY 2008-09 “for rockfall protection/slope stabilization at various locations, statewide.”
• $4.75 million for FY 2010-11 “for construction for slope protection” in the gulches.
• $2 million for FY 2011-12 “for design for slope protection” in the gulches.
• $19.5 million for FY 2012-13 “for design and construction for slope protection” in the gulches.
The suit claims the state “within a reasonable time prior to the crash … had not performed any reasonably effective rockfall mitigation work or rockfall removal in the area even though … this was a frequent rockfall hazard area for motorists.”
This suit comes in the wake of a recent state Supreme Court decision vacating a 2012 ruling by a Big Island judge that the state wasn’t liable for damages suffered by an Ocean View couple who were seriously injured when their car was crushed by a 160-ton rockslide on Highway 11 in Ka‘u on March 8, 2007.
The June 7 decision by the high court sends the case of Michael Patrick O’Grady and Leiloni O’Grady back to the courtroom of Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura, who made the original ruling following a weeklong bench trial.
“That decision is helpful because it goes after the ‘discretionary function’ issue, which is always raised by the state in any case against it,” Park said. “I’m sure they’re going to raise discretionary function and say they didn’t have enough money (to mitigate rockfall hazards).”
Joshua Wisch, spokesman for the state attorney general, said the office hadn’t yet seen the suit and didn’t comment further.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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