Kahan v. U.S., 73 F.Supp.2d 1172 (D. Haw. 1999)

On August 23, 1994, Plaintiffs David Finkelstein, Alex Kahan, Nate Minc and their families were visiting Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. They arrived at the gate, paid their entrance fee, and were handed a park brochure which included safety tips, noting visitors are to stay on the marked trails and follow warning signs. They went to the visitor center, and checked out sights near the park entrance. They then drove about 23 miles down Chain of Craters Road, which terminates near an active lava flow, in the Lae Apuki area.

The National Park Service had established a safe zone from which to observe the lava flow entering the ocean, which was about half a mile from the actual point of flowing lava. Two trails led from the road to the observation areas, marked with trail signs and orange safety cones. A yellow rope also established a closed area, with orange cones and signs stating that going beyond the rope line was hazardous, and the area was closed.

After the plaintiffs reached the end of the road, they walked towards other people out on the lava flow. They said they did not know they were walking in the closed area. However, photos from their visit showed the “closed area” and other warning signs, as well as the rope barrier. Additionally, other photographs showed the barriers in place, and ranger testimony indicated the signs and barriers were in place. The court found that the plaintiffs knew or should have known they were entering a closed area, and either went under the rope barrier or ignored the warning signs.

Once they were out on the lava flow, they noticed a large steam plume rising. All the other visitors except for the plaintiffs went back to their cars; however, the plaintiffs continued down a steep area to the black sand beach. Mr. Finkelstein stayed up top to take photos as the rest came closer to the steam plume, approximately 25 to 50 feet away. As they were leaving the area, a wave of superheated water hit the plaintiffs, causing severe burns. Minc and Kahan received first and second degree buns.

The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the United States of America for injuries sustained when they were scalded by the superheated water in the Volcanoes National Park. Plaintiffs allege the government was negligent in failing to make the site safe for visitors, and for failing to maintain proper barriers and signage at the eruption site, and failing to warn visitors of the possible dangers. At trial, a U.S. Magistrate Judge found in favor of the government and against the plaintiffs because the plaintiffs knowingly entered the closed area, and are alone responsible for their injuries.

Kamali v. Hawaiian Electric Co., Inc., 504 P.2d 861 (Haw. 1972)

Joseph Kamali, an employee of a house moving contractor, sustained severe electrical burns when he unintentionally came in contact with uninsulated high-tension lines while standing on the roof of a house that was being hauled down a public street on a trailer. Kamali received workers’ compensation benefits but also sought damages for the injury. He claimed Hawaiian Electric Company, the owner of the electric lines, was responsible for the mishap, averring it was negligent in constructing and maintaining the wires.

The trial court found in favor of Kamali and against Hawaiian Electric. The utility company then brought suit against the house mover and the driver of the truck, seeking contribution for damages from the third-party defendants on averments that they were joint tortfeasors. It sought indemnification on the basis of the permit obtained by the house mover from the Joint Pole Committee in accord with an ordinance of the City and County of Honolulu and on allegations that the house mover owed Hawaiian Electric an independent duty of indemnity.

The Supreme Court found that because Hawaiian Electric did not object to the special verdict on the issue of negligence and proximate cause, and did not move for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, they foreclosed on the issue, and the jury verdict was upheld, awarding Kamali $150,000.

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