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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 23, 2003

Land liability bill signed

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

A bill signed yesterday by Gov. Linda Lingle gives the state and counties new protection against liability lawsuits.

House Bill 1214 says signs warning of natural dangers in most parks and public lands are adequate warning to users.

The Board of Land and Natural Resources, working with risk assessment advisers, would need to approve the wording of the signs. The state and counties would be required to inspect the signs at least quarterly.

The law, now called Act 82, takes effect July 1. It does not apply to unimproved lands.

Lingle, who first fought for a public lands liability bill when she was mayor of Maui, said the biggest winners are the taxpayers.

Lingle cited the Sacred Falls tragedy as the catalyst for the bill.

Last October, a Hawai'i Circuit Court ruled that the state was negligent in protecting the public from a Mother's Day 1999 rockslide at Sacred Falls Park that killed eight people and injured 42 others.

The court ruled the state failed to post adequate warnings at the site. The state is appealing the ruling, noting that there were nine signs up the day of the accident. The park has been closed since the rockslide.

"Without a bill such as this, we have been forced to limit access to many of our public areas simply because concerns over liability and the ability of the taxpayers to absorb these kinds of lawsuits against the state," Lingle said.

Patrick Rorie, vice president of the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club, was ecstatic with the new law and is hopeful it will allow the state and counties to reopen several sites that have been closed because of liability issues, including the city's Ha'iku Stairs in Kane'ohe.

"Because of liability concerns, some of the finest hiking trails on O'ahu are unavailable to the public," Rorie said. Now "there's a real good possibility that hikers like myself can go in there and enjoy these areas despite the risks."

Rorie added that he is hopeful a similar law can be put in place for private property.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.