Hawaii’s governor releases details of $175M fund to compensate Maui wildfire victims

HONOLULU– Hawaii Governor Josh Green said Tuesday that a $175 million fund to compensate families of people killed in the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century will begin accepting applications from the end of the week.

The Maui Wildfire Victims Fund will also pay those hospitalized with serious injuries.

Families of the dead would receive $1.5 million after their eligibility was confirmed by a retired Hawaii judge. The seriously injured would receive a portion determined by the judge. Maui County has confirmed the deaths of 101 people as a result of the wildfire that destroyed the historic town of Lahaina on August 8. Two people are still missing.

Green has presented the fund as an option for survivors considering suing the state of Hawaii, Hawaiian Electric or other utilities and landowners for their role in the fire.

People who accept the fund’s money will give up their right to sue the entities that contributed to the fund. Hawaiian Electric is the largest insurer with $75 million, followed by the state of Hawaii with $65 million, landowner Kamehameha Schools with $17.5 million and Maui County with $10 million.

Green said those who file suit could wait three, four or five years before receiving any money and incur significant legal fees.

“This recovery fund amounts to an offer and it is really up to people whether they want to take that offer,” Green said at an announcement and news conference.

Several lawsuits have already been filed on behalf of wildfire victims against the state, county, utilities and landlords.

Hawaii lawmakers have not appropriated the $65 million needed for the state’s share. Green said he expects they will do this after seeing that this is the “compassionate” approach and that it is a way for the state to avoid expensive and lengthy lawsuits.

But even if that’s not the case, Green says his wildfire emergency declaration gives him the authority to bring forward the state’s share.

Ronald Ibarra, a retired state judge who previously served as chief judge of the Third Circuit Court in Hilo, will review claims as the fund’s administrator.

“It’s important to have someone local who really understands the people of our state — including the people of a rural community,” Green said.

Ibarra said $25 million of the fund would be set aside for seriously injured people. He said another $10 million would be made available for the injured if any money remains after the families of the dead have been compensated.

Green said if any money remains after all claims have been paid, the balance will be returned to the funders in proportion to the amount they donated. The governor said it is unlikely that all survivors will file a claim.

“I would be very surprised if 100% of people took up this offer, because some people will think it is better to litigate. That’s absolutely okay,” he said.

The fund is called ‘One Ohana’, after the Hawaiian word for family. It will start accepting applications from March 1.