Kauai County paying $7.5M to settle Kaloko dam lawsuits
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
Kaua'i County will pay $7.5 million as its portion of a $25 million out-of-court settlement following the 2006 Kaloko dam disaster that killed seven people and caused widespread damage, the county announced yesterday.
About 60 parties filed lawsuits in connection with the March 14, 2006, incident. The 116-year-old dam collapsed during heavy rain, sending an estimated 400 million gallons of water through Kaua'i's North Shore.
Last October, a global settlement was announced in Kaua'i Circuit Court and the plaintiffs were to receive $25 million. Details of the settlement were sealed and it was not revealed how much the individual parties would receive.
The damages would be paid by retired car dealer Jimmy Pflueger and other current and former owners of the land where the dam stood, the state of Hawai'i, Kaua'i County, and engineering firms and contractors that did work in the area.
Although the parties agreed to keep the settlement details secret, The Advertiser on Nov. 2 asked state Attorney General Mark Bennett to make public the state's share of the settlement, in accordance with the state's open records law. The same request was made to Kaua'i County officials.
In December, a Kaua'i judge granted the state's motion to allow the information to be released. The state then reported that its share would be $1.5 million.
Yesterday, Kaua'i County said that it had agreed to pay $7.5 million, of which the county would be responsible for $250,000. The balance will be covered by insurance, the county said.
Kaua'i County Attorney Alfred Castillo said the county was prepared to go to trial, but agreed to the settlement to avoid paying possibly greater damages should it not prevail.
"Had the county lost at trial with the other defendants, we could have ended up having to pay almost everything, not just the percentage the jury assigned to us," Castillo said in a statement. "Since this case had potentially huge damages, well in excess of our insurance limits, the county and its insurance carriers believed that settling was in the best interest of the county."
Castillo said the difference between the state's portion of the settlement and the county's had "little to do with culpability, and instead reflected financial realities and state law regarding immunity."
The county last week received clearance from a Kaua'i judge to reveal its portion of the settlement.
Attorney Jeff Portnoy, who represented The Advertiser, said he didn't believe the state or county needed court approval to release the information.
"The sealing of this settlement initially was, I think, unfounded," Portnoy said yesterday. "I thought then and I think now that it's critical that when taxpayers' money is being used to settle litigation of whatever kind, those amounts should be immediately disclosed."