Opaeka’a Falls Courtesy of CityPictures

BY JIM DOOLEY – House lawmakers were asked today to approve the state’s portion of a $15.4 million settlement in a lawsuit filed by the families of two women killed on a Kauai hiking trail in 2006.

Opaeka’a Falls Courtesy of CityPictures

$5.46 million of the payment must be made by the state and $9.97 million by the state’s insurance carrier, Chartis Insurance, Attorney General David Louie told legislators in written testimony.

If approved by the Legislature and the governor, the settlement would end a lawsuit filed by the families of the two hikers, Elizabeth Brem of California and Paula Ramirez of Colombia, South America.

The two cousins were vacationing on Kauai when they went for a hike near Opaeka’a Falls in Waialua State Park on Kauai in December 2006.

They fell 300 feet to their deaths in an area where another hiker had been injured in a 200-foot fall six months earlier.

The state had placed a warning sign that one trail in the area was hazardous but posted no warning on the path taken by the two women.

Louie said the route taken by the women was “a much shorter path that drops down sharply into the canyon.”

In a trial last year, Kauai Circuit Judge found the state 100 per cent liable for the accident and a second trial to determine the amount of damages in the case was to be held this week.

Brem, 36, was a securities attorney who had recently been promoted to full equity partner in one of the largest firms in the country, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.

“In her first year as partner, her income was in excess of $730,000.00 and it was expected that her income would increase during her tenure with the firm,” Louie testified.

“On average, equity partners were compensated at approximately $2,300,000.00 annually” and Brem’s loss of lifetime earnings was estimated to be more than $38 million, according to court records.

If the state had gone to trial, it would have been exposed to damages well in excess of $38 million, Louie said.

“In light of Judge Watanabe’s ruling on liability, the judge will also award general damages in an amount expected to be in the multiple millions,” he said.

Ramirez’s mother was seeking more than $850,000 in damages from the state,  Louie said.

She agreed to accept $425,000 in the settlement.

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com