In the wake of what has been called the biggest ever lawsuit against the state of Hawaii, opinions have varied widely over whether or not the settlement agreed was excessive. However, Oregon park injury lawyers have agreed that in light of the state’s admission of liability and the fact that one of the victims was a highly successful professional, the award was certainly justified.
Cousins thought they were in paradise
In December, 2006, Elizabeth Warke Brem, who was 35 at the time, and her cousin, Paula Ramirez, 29, were in Kauai’s Waialua River State Park, and they were hiking on a trail towards the breathtaking Opaeka’a Falls. The two women thought they were on an island paradise. Instead, both lost their lives that day, in the week before Christmas, in an accident that Oregon park injury lawyers say should never have happened. Last week, the state of Hawaii agreed to pay $15.4 million to families of the victims, after admitting liability in the cousins’ deaths.
At the time of the accident, Brem was a partner in the law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, in Irvine, California. Ramirez was visiting from Bogota, Colombia. According to the suit filed by the Davis Levin Livingston law firm, who are representing the Brem and Warke families, the facts of the case are as follows:
- The two women were on a marked trail en route to the falls.
- They came to a fork in the trail, and a sign to the left indicating that hikers should keep out.
- Brem and Ramirez instead took an unmarked path to the right, covered in heavy vegetation.
- That path led to a steep cliff, and the two women fell 300 feet. Both were killed instantly.
Initially, the government of Hawaii claimed that the sign on the trail which read, “Danger—Keep Out—Hazardous Conditions,” was meant to warn people not to hike too close to the waterfall. The state also said the sign was specifically intended to stop people from making the risky climb down to the pool at the base of the cliff.
The plaintiffs’ case showed liability and lost income
Lawyers for the Brem family, as well as the Hawaiian attorney Teresa Tico, who is representing Ramirez’s family, discounted the state’s defense. They said in part:
- There was no corresponding warning sign on the right side of the trail.
- No fence was put in place to stop people from proceeding down the trail.
- Sightseers and nature lovers continue to visit Waialua River State Park every year, with the falls being especially popular for hikers.
- Prior to the deaths of Brem and Ramirez, several other hikers were involved in serious incidents, including one person who fell from the exact same cliff. That person survived only because he landed in a tree canopy 200 feet below the cliff.
- The state did eventually put up a fence to prevent people from taking the trail Brem and Ramirez used.
Almost a year ago, the courts ruled that the state of Hawaii was liable in the deaths of the two women. In March, with the civil case pending, the state offered the two families $15.4 million in compensation, the largest personal injury settlement in Hawaiian history. About $15 million of that figure goes to Brem’s estate, with $425,000 going to Ramirez’s family. The state legislature still has to approve the settlement, and if they don’t the damages case will still go ahead.
Elizabeth Brem was the daughter of a Colombian immigrant who grew up in the Bronx. She excelled in high school and went to Yale Law School. In 1996, she became a securities litigator at Gibson Dunn. Nine years later, the firm made her a full partner; she was the first female Hispanic lawyer to make partner at Gibson Dunn in Irvine. She left behind a husband and two sons. The two boys were five years and nine months of age when their mother died.
Some think the settlement is too high – but is it?
Some commentators feel the $15.4 million award to the two families is excessive. They argue the two women should have heeded the warning sign and that even if the state was liable, the agreed settlement is far too high.
Oregon park injury lawyers, however, point out that Elizabeth Brem was a young, highly-skilled and highly paid attorney. Her family has not just been deprived of the love and companionship of a wife and mother, they have also been denied the substantial income a full partner in a successful law firm would have brought in over 30 years.
Brem was working hard to ensure her family had a lifestyle far removed from her upbringing in the Bronx. She would have wanted her two sons to get the best education money can buy, and those who are at least in part responsible for her death should have to see that those wishes become a reality.
The state of Hawaii was well aware that the falls were a popular destination for hikers. The fact that other serious incidents had occurred in the months and years prior to the deaths of Brem and Ramirez should have been enough of a warning for those with responsibility for the park to take action to either sufficiently warn people of the dangers, or to keep them away from the dangerous cliffs. The fact that they’ve now erected a fence to do just that is effectively an admission of their responsibility.
Oregon has its fair share of beautiful—and potentially dangerous—natural wildlife areas, hiking trails and state-run parks. It is up to those who are responsible for running the parks and looking after these areas to ensure the safety of those who visit. Sadly, dozens of people are injured every year in Oregon parks.
If this has happened to you or a member of your family, and you think the injuries were caused by the negligence of state authorities, you should contact a team of experienced Oregon park injury lawyers. The consultation is free, and a genuinely concerned personal injury attorney will explain the best course of action to take. If you decide to proceed with a lawsuit, they will work with you to get the compensation you and your family deserve, and which you will need to pay your medical bills and get on with your lives.