Landowner Slapped With Wrongful Death Lawsuit After Deadly Hawaii Dam Break

Families of six of the seven people killed when a century-old earthen dam burst on the island of Kauai in March have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the property's owners.

The lawsuit filed Thursday alleges the area surrounding the reservoir was illegally graded by landowner James H. Pflueger, causing the March 14 dam failure that unleashed more than 300 million gallons of water. The water cut a three-mile path of destruction to the sea.

Attorneys representing the victims' families said Pflueger repeatedly refused the state's request to inspect the property, a claim that Pflueger's attorney denied.

The lawsuit alleges Pflueger, a retired auto dealer, knew about seepage from the dam, but did nothing about the problem.

Pflueger's attorney, Bill McCorriston, said the state was aware of safety risks at the Kaloko dam as early as 1982, but did not share the information with the public or Pflueger. He said Pflueger, who bought the property in 1987, has allowed inspectors onto it on many occasions, adding the lawsuit contains many factual errors.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified special and punitive damages. It also names Pflueger Properties, Pflueger Management LLC, Pflueger Partners, Mary N. Lucas Trust and its trustee Carroll S. Taylor as defendants.

Plaintiffs' attorney Richard Fried Jr. said he is also preparing a separate lawsuit on behalf of 32 property owners whose properties were damaged. One of those, entertainer Bette Midler, is one the largest landowners in the area with 38 acres.

The water from the dam break swept away at least seven people — including a 2-year-old boy — while they slept. Only three bodies were recovered.

The state attorney general's office is investigating the dam break.