The state Department of Transportation is set to pay a $3 million settlement in a 12-year-old case brought by a Big Island couple injured when falling rocks smashed into their car.
That settlement is the largest among $6.1 million worth of cases settled by the state for which the Attorney General’s office is awaiting legislative approval. House Bill 942 contains the appropriation, but the amount could grow by the time the Legislature adjourns in May.
When the bill was first heard in early February, the total amount was $1.1 million. HB 942 will have one more hearing by Senate Ways and Means before moving to the full Senate.
In the DOT case, Michael and Leiloni O’Grady’s car was struck by part of a 150- to 175-ton rockfall on Highway 11 in Kau in 2007. The rocks came down a heavily eroded slope that should have been maintained by the state, according to court documents.
The O’Gradys suffered fractures and traumatic brain and internal injuries, the AG’s office said in written testimony.
The measure to pay for the state’s legal settlements totals $6.1 million — so far.
Third Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura ruled in 2012 that the state was responsible for maintaining that slope, but also ruled that the O’Gradys did not prove the state’s negligence was the cause of their injuries.
The Supreme Court vacated Nakamura’s ruling in 2017 and returned it to Circuit Court. Nakamura then changed his ruling in favor of the O’Gradys.
Lawyers for the couple did not return calls Friday. West Hawaii Today reported in 2017 that Michael O’Grady returned to work at the Department of Education after the incident but left shortly after, and his wife was never able to go back to work.
The DOT also must also pay $900,000 to the family of Long Huynh, a motorcyclist who died on an H-3 on-ramp after losing control of his motorcycle and slamming into a guardrail in 2015. After that accident, two other people died on the same turn.
First Circuit Court Judge Jeannette Castagnetti ruled in favor of Huynh’s family, who alleged that signs on the on-ramp did not give motorists enough warning of the approaching turn.
A motorcycle and an on-ramp also figured into another crash last year.
Vinebaldo and Josefa Acosta were riding on the Farrington Highway and taking an exit to get to Kamehameha Highway in Pearl City when they hit a pothole and fell off their motorcycle.
The Acostas were injured and and their motorcycle was damaged in the incident. They were awarded $115,440 by a court arbitrator.
“It would be very difficult to avoid court imposed sanctions if this case was taken to trial,” the AG’s office said in written testimony.
The departments of education and public safety must also make payments out of their budgets for settlements.
In a 2012 case, a special education student alleged that she was raped and sexually assaulted by a male classmate in a coed bathroom at Waianae High School. A jury trial found that the state was responsible, and a subsequent case with the U.S. District Court affirmed the ruling.
A special education student at Waianae High School alleged that she was raped in a coed bathroom in 2012.
Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat
The plaintiff will get $783,391.
The state settled for $50,000 in a suit involving a student at Kuaukaha Elementary School who slipped on an area rug. A doctor later found that she fractured a growth plate on her hip in the fall. She underwent surgery.
The state settled two suits involving the Department of Public Safety.
In one case, the mother of Jonathan Ibana, who hung himself in a cell at the Halawa Correctional Facility, will be awarded $74,900. Helen Coma, Ibana’s mother, alleged that the state was negligent in monitoring Ibana prior to his death in 2013.
Disabled inmates at the Hale Nani facility on the Big Island will get a total $45,000 after the DPS reached a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice on March 20.
They first complained to the feds that they were being discriminated against since they couldn’t participate in work furlough programs, which delayed their parole eligibility dates.
The DOJ found deficiencies in the department’s policies and programs statewide and required them to be changed. It also told the department to bring its facilities into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The ADA-related repairs at detention facilities in the state could cost $5 million, according to a deferred maintenance report. The department requested $10 million in capital improvement funds to make those upgrades, but that request failed to clear a Senate committee in February.
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Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell