Hawaii governor releases details of $175M fund for Maui fire victims

Hawaii Gov. 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 at the end of the week.

The fund for Maui wildfire victims will also pay those who were hospitalized with severe injuries.

Families of those killed would receive $1.5 million after their eligibility is confirmed by a retired Hawaii judge. Those seriously injured would receive a share determined by the judge. Maui County has confirmed the deaths of 101 people from the Aug. 8 wildfire that destroyed the historic town of Lahaina. Two people are still missing.

Green framed 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 blaze.

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

Green said those who sue could potentially wait three, four or five years before they receive money and incur significant legal costs.

“This recovery fund amounts to an offer and it’s really up to people if they choose to take this offer,” Green said at an announcement and news conference.

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

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

But even if they don’t, Green said his emergency proclamation for the wildfire gives him powers to put forward the state’s share.

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

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

Ibarra said $25 million of the fund would be reserved for the seriously injured. He said up to $10 million more would be made available for the injured if there’s money remaining after families of those killed have been compensated.

Green said if there’s money left over 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’s unlikely that all survivors will file claims.

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

The fund is named “One Ohana” after the Hawaiian word for family. It begins accepting applications on March 1.