Avvo badge
Super Lawyers badge
Best Lawyers - Best Law Firms
Best Lawyers badge
Best Lawyers - Lawyer of the Year
Best Law Firms 2020
Best Law Firms 2021
Best Lawyers
Best Law Firms - Medical Malpractice Law
Best Law Firms - Regional Tier 1 Badge Personal Injury Litigation
Best Law Firms - Regional Tier 1 Badge Medical Malpractice Law
Best Lawyers 2023
Best Law Firms 2023

Press Releases

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Maui Fire Victims Attend First Congressional Hearing on Deadly August 8th Lahaina Fire to Demand Answers from Hawaiian Electric CEO and Utilities

Clients of Bickerton Law Group LLLP and Andrews & Thornton Also Submit Written Testimony to House Energy & Commerce Committee

Washington, D.C. – September 28, 2023 – At least eight victims and survivors of the August 8th Lahaina fire traveled to Washington to hear Hawaiian Electric President & CEO Shelee Kimura, Hawaii Public Utilities Commission Chairman Leodoloff R. Asuncion, Jr., and Hawai‘i State Energy Office’s Chief Energy Officer Mark B. Glick testify today before the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The hearing entitled “Investigating The Role Of Electric Infrastructure In The Catastrophic Maui Fire” notably excluded oral testimony from victims, so they instead submitted their testimony in writing ahead of the hearing. Excerpts from the testimony – which can be found in full here – are included below.

The following individuals traveled from all over the country to attend the hearing, including from Hawai‘i, Oregon, and Illinois. They were accompanied by Anne Andrews, Founding and Co-Managing Partner of Andrews & Thornton, a leading national personal injury and mass torts firm, and are jointly represented by Bickerton Law Group, a Honolulu-based firm with more than three decades of experience serving people and businesses in Hawai‘i with experience in grass-originated and grass-fed fire litigation.

Excerpt From Written Testimony Submitted by Kathleen Hennricks, Sister of Maui Fire Victim Rebecca Rans

My sister died alongside her loving partner of twelve years, Doug Gleoge, just a few blocks from their home as they attempted to escape the fires that ravaged their beloved Maui. The biggest tragedy is that my sister’s deaths and the losses to our family were completely preventable. … It is agonizing to think of the pain and terror she must have felt while trying desperately to escape. … It is imperative that as victims and families of victims we find out why this was allowed to happen, especially with Maui’s wildfires in 2018 to forewarn the responsible parties. We cannot let history repeat itself for a third time. No one should have to go through what my sister went through, and no one should have to deal with the loss of their family or loved one like our family has.

Excerpt From Written Testimony Submitted by Jon Gloege and Andrea Wheeler, Children of Maui Fire Victim Doug Gloege

Our dad’s connection to the island of Maui was profound. His family were fourth-generation homeowners on that very land, a place where our roots run deep. … Perhaps the most excruciating aspect of this ordeal has been the condition of our dad’s remains. The fire's ferocity left his body unrecognizable, rendering viewing impossible. The weight of this reality is one that we both continue to grapple with daily. …While we thank you for having this hearing, we are disappointed and angry that you did not feel it necessary to hear the voice of even one victim.

Excerpt From Written Testimony Submitted by Andrea and Doc Ellis Pekelo, Survivors of 2018 and 2023 Maui Fires

My husband and I have lived in fear for these past five years since the fires that consumed Maui in 2018. I am a lifelong resident of Lahaina, and my husband is a native Hawaiian with roots going many, many generations back to the sacred town of Lahaina, where his ancestors lived and are buried. This land that we have loved and cherished for so long has become a toxic, burnt wasteland as a result of these fires. Our neighborhood is a disaster site closed to the public, preventing us from living in our home. …We personally witnessed the destruction of the Maui wildfires that took place in 2018, and we hoped we would never have to see something like that again. To our despair, our worst nightmare repeated itself. ... We want Congress and this Committee to know that this fire was preventable and that we have a responsibility to ensure it never happens again.

Excerpt From Written Testimony Submitted by Brian Kinley, Who Was Leading a Scuba Diving Trip in Lahaina on August 8th

I am Brian Kinley, owner of Azimuth Scuba, a diving shop located in Rockford, Illinois, and I am a witness to the tragedy that took place in Maui this August. …What should have been a wonderful trip to celebrate the success of two newly trained diving instructors became a nightmarish fight for our lives. … Our group received absolutely no assistance from state or HECO officials regarding notice of the fire or when or how to evacuate. … The most upsetting truth is knowing firsthand that additional efforts by state or HECO officials to warn the public of the approaching fire would have resulted in many lives being saved. Simply warning the public to be better prepared for an evacuation would have made a world of difference. It’s important that we collectively determine who was at fault and what measures must be taken to prevent it from ever happening again.

Excerpt From Written Testimony Submitted by Jim and Elsa Eberle, Longtime Lahaina Residents and Parents of Andrea Pekelo

Our connection to Lahaina dates back to when we first exchanged vows at the beautiful Maria Lanakila Church, decades ago. Although we later moved away, we could never truly sever the bond we had formed with this enchanting island. … The recent Maui Fire has not only destroyed homes and livelihoods but has inflicted deep emotional wounds that may never fully heal. The citizens of Lahaina are highly traumatized, and the scars of this tragedy run deep. They have lost not only their material possessions but, more painfully, their friends, family, and the very sense of community that defined their lives. We saw this trauma firsthand during the 2018 Maui Fires when we almost lost our beloved daughter Andrea, and her husband, Doc Ellis. The pain, the fear, and the sense of déjà vu during the recent catastrophe were excruciatingly tormenting.

The above individuals were accompanied at the hearing by Anne Andrews, Founding Partner of Andrews & Thornton. She stated: “It’s indefensible that invasive, highly flammable vegetation was allowed to grow rampant right next to Lahaina without any sort of management. Fires like the one that destroyed Lahaina on August 8th have happened before under nearly identical conditions, yet the responsible parties failed to take action and adequately prepare, resulting in the wrongful and preventable deaths of over 97 people.”

The above individuals are jointly represented by Bridget G. Morgan-Bickerton, Managing Partner of Bickerton Law Group: “Hawai‘i residents know that our state is susceptible to high winds and ferocious storms. The storms follow a typical and predictable track, with strong winds downing tree and power lines, sparking fire in the grasslands, which spreads rapidly after being fanned by strong wind gusts. The County, State, utilities and landowners were given an astounding five years to prepare between major fires in Lahaina, but did nothing. The result was catastrophic.”

“Everyone has been looking at the spark and ignoring the fuel,” said James Bickerton, Founding Partner of Bickerton Law Group. “Because of our firm’s work on the earlier Parker Ranch fire – which was environmentally devastating, though less deadly – we immediately understood the role fuel plays in fires in our state. The fuel here was vast expanses of neglected, invasive, non-native and flammable grasses and brush vegetation.”

About Bickerton Law Group LLLP

Bickerton Law Group is one of Honolulu's premier litigation law firms. Widely respected in Hawai‘i's legal community, Bickerton Law Group attorneys are known for their tenacity, innovation, and practicality in helping accident, fire, and malpractice victims, injured consumers, employees, and public figures navigate the legal system. Since 1989, its Honolulu litigation attorneys have successfully represented clients on matters as wide-ranging as wrongful death and substantial personal injury, class actions, unfair competition, wrongful termination, public interest advocacy, professional liability and medical malpractice, protecting Hawai‘i's land, people, and open government. Learn more at bsds.com.

About Andrews & Thornton

Through successful litigations against companies that made harmful products, Andrews & Thornton has obtained compensation for injured consumers through the combined knowledge of over fifty years of legal experience. Andrews & Thornton has been a leader in pharmaceutical, medical device and dietary supplement litigation, prosecuting lawsuits in State and Federal District Courts. Its attorneys have earned a national reputation as effective mass tort advocates and have been asked to participate with mass tort leadership in California, Hawaii, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Minnesota. Andrews & Thornton has also worked inside some of the largest corporate bankruptcies in history to secure compensation for victims. Andrews & Thornton has helped negotiate billions in compensation for victims in bankruptcies, including $13.5 billion for PG&E fire victims (Camp Fire, Nuns Fire, Atlas Fire, Tubbs Fire). Learn more at andrewsthornton.com.

Media Contact:
morgan@bsds.com
bickerton@bsds.com
Media@bsds.com


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Children of Father Who Perished in Lahaina Fire Alongside Girlfriend Accuse Maui County, State of Hawai‘i, Hawaiian Electric and Bishop Estate of Gross Negligence

Second Complaint Filed by Bickerton Law Group LLLP and Andrews & Thornton Alleges Grassland Neglect Among the Factors That Caused August 8th Death of Lahaina Resident Doug Gloege

Honolulu, HI, September 19, 2023 / The County of Maui, State of Hawai‘i, HECO and its subsidiaries, as well as major landowner, Bishop Estate, have been named as co-defendants in a civil action filed by the son and daughter of a man who was tragically and suddenly killed with his partner, Rebecca Rans, trying to escape the fires that devastated the community of Lahaina on Maui on August 8th. The complaint filed yesterday in the Circuit Court of the Second additionally accuses the defendants of causing and fueling the fire that destroyed the Lahaina residence that Doug Gloege shared with Rebecca Rans, causing them to flee, cutting off their escape paths and routes, and ultimately resulting in their wrongful deaths.

Plaintiffs Jon Gloege and Andrea Wheeler are the son and daughter of Doug Gloege and they filed a complaint individually and on behalf of all heirs of their father’s estate. The plaintiffs are jointly represented by attorneys at Bickerton Law Group LLLP, a Honolulu-based firm with more than three decades of experience serving people and businesses in Hawai‘i, with experience in grass-originated and grass-fed fire litigation, and Andrews & Thornton, a leading national personal injury and mass torts firm with extensive, relevant experience representing the PG&E Fire Victim Trust as litigation counsel.

“Everyone has been looking at the spark and ignoring the fuel,” said James Bickerton, Founding Partner of Bickerton Law Group. “Because of our firm’s work on the earlier Parker Ranch fire – which was environmentally devastating, though less deadly – we immediately understood the role fuel plays in fires in our state. The fuel here was vast expanses of neglected, invasive, non-native and flammable grasses and brush vegetation.”

“Hawai‘i residents know that our state is susceptible to high winds and ferocious storms,” said Bridget G. Morgan-Bickerton, Managing Partner of Bickerton Law Group. “The storms follow a typical and predictable track, with strong winds downing tree and power lines, sparking fire in the grasslands, which spreads rapidly after being fanned by strong wind gusts. The County, State, utilities and landowners were given an astounding five years to prepare between major fires in Lahaina, but did nothing. The result was catastrophic.”

“It’s indefensible that this invasive, highly flammable vegetation was allowed to grow rampant right next to Lahaina without any sort of management,” said Anne Andrews, Founding Partner of Andrews & Thornton. “The reason that the complaint alleges gross negligence, rather than solely negligence, is because fires like this have happened before under nearly identical conditions, yet the responsible parties failed to take action and adequately prepare, resulting in the wrongful and preventable deaths of over 95 people.”

As alleged in the complaint, each of the defendants caused the fires that devastated Lahaina and killed Mr. Gloege, whose body was found burned to death alongside that of his longtime partner, Ms. Rans. Born in San Diego, Mr. Gloege eventually moved to Lahaina, where he lived for more than 20 years, due to his love of the area, and to be closer to his parents and half-brother. As the complaint notes, Mr. Gloege excelled at his job in construction because he “loved to work with his hands in the open air outside the confines of an office or cubicle.” He and his partner “had a mutual love of spending time in the sun, beach, and mountains of Maui. They continued to stay together until both of them met their untimely demise by burning to death a few blocks from their home because of the Lahaina Fire.”

As detailed in the complaint, Mr. Gloege’s family was extremely worried about his safety and did everything they could to obtain information about the fire itself and their loved one’s whereabouts, using Facebook and Google Docs to collect and share information, and communicated with the family of his partner, Rebecca Rans. After 11 long days, the plaintiffs’ efforts came to a close when, on August 19th, FBI agents knocked on Jon Gloege’s door to inform him that his father’s remains were positively identified through fingerprint evidence just a few blocks from his home, alongside those of his deceased partner.

The complaint details how the risk of wildfires to Lahaina was known to the defendants, documented in reports from the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization dating back to at least 2014. Yet it was only in 2022 that Hawaiian Electric submitted its first request for funding to harden its power grid, far too late. Repeated, specific warnings from the National Weather Service in Honolulu about “dry weather & high fire danger” beginning August 4th meant that the utility defendants knew or should have known that conditions nearly identical to, if not worse than, the 2018 fire were soon to occur and they should de-energize their power lines to prevent the potential fire spread.

As stated in the complaint, Maui County officials were also ill prepared for the Lahaina Fire, failing to adequately warn residents that the fire was marching towards them, which would have given them more time to flee, and insufficiently planning for multiple evacuation routes. Large landowners, including Bishop Estate, the State, and Maui County, had a duty to reduce fire risk to Lahaina and other vulnerable places, yet they undertook no or poor vegetation management. Bishop Estate is a trust that was endowed with nearly 10% of the landmass of the state of Hawai‘i. Today, Bishop owns several large parcels of land that were in the path of and facilitated the fire destruction that ultimately destroyed Rans’ residence and caused her untimely and tragic death.

About Bickerton Law Group LLLP

Bickerton Law Group is one of Honolulu's premier litigation law firms. Widely respected in Hawai‘i's legal community, Bickerton Law Group attorneys are known for their tenacity, innovation, and practicality in helping accident, fire, and malpractice victims, injured consumers, employees, and public figures navigate the legal system. Since 1989, its Honolulu litigation attorneys have successfully represented clients on matters as wide-ranging as wrongful death and substantial personal injury, class actions, unfair competition, wrongful termination, public interest advocacy, professional liability and medical malpractice, protecting Hawai‘i's land, people, and open government. Learn more at bsds.com.

About Andrews & Thornton

Through successful litigations against companies that made harmful products, Andrews & Thornton has obtained compensation for injured consumers through the combined knowledge of over fifty years of legal experience. Andrews & Thornton has been a leader in pharmaceutical, medical device and dietary supplement litigation, prosecuting lawsuits in State and Federal District Courts. Its attorneys have earned a national reputation as effective mass tort advocates and have been asked to participate with mass tort leadership in California, Hawaii, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Minnesota. Andrews & Thornton has also worked inside some of the largest corporate bankruptcies in history to secure compensation for victims. Andrews & Thornton has helped negotiate billions in compensation for victims in bankruptcies, including $13.5 billion for PG&E fire victims (Camp Fire, Nuns Fire, Atlas Fire, Tubbs Fire). Learn more at andrewsthornton.com.

CONTACTS:

James J. Bickerton, Esq
bickerton@bsds.com
808-624-7514

Bridget G. Morgan-Bickerton, Esq.
morgan@bsds.com
808-624-7524

Attorneys for Plaintiffs Bickerton Law Group, LLLP

Assistants to Mr. Bickerton and Ms. Morgan-Bickerton:

Karen Kaneshiro:
karen@bsds.com
808-599-9576

Michele Sibert:
michele@bsds.com
808-524-0685

Maui’s neglected grasslands caused Lahaina fire to grow with deadly speed

HAWAIIAN HOMESTEADERS SUE PARKER RANCH FOR 2021 WAIMEA WILDFIRE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JASON MATTOS, et. al.
vs.
PARKER RANCH, INC.; et al.
PRESS CONFERENCE December 15, 2022 at 1:00 p.m. via Zoom
Link https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83882886795

On July 30, 2021 - an extremely dry and windy day in Waimea – Parker Ranch operations on its lands started a fire, which would grow to be the largest recorded fire in Hawaii’s history. Parker Ranch was constructing metal fencing on its land but was using a metal saw, and doing so without required safety protections like a nearby water supply. Sparks from the sawing of metal ignited a fire that started slowly to spread. The fire remained on Parker Ranch’s land for more than a day but Parker Ranch failed to suppress or contain it. As a result, it eventually escaped from Parker Ranch land and burned several hundred acres of Plaintiffs’ land, soil, fencing, farming equipment, vehicles, and even one of their homes.

Plaintiffs are Parker Ranch’s neighbors, hardworking ranchers and Hawaiian homesteaders who care deeply about the lands they live on and work daily. Despite that Parker Ranch claims to have “a committed kuleana to community”, it allowed the fire to escape its own lands, engulf its neighbors’ lands, and nonetheless offered Plaintiffs no meaningful help at the time. Plaintiffs were left to fight the fire themselves as it engulfed and burned their land and threatened their families’ lives.

Nearly a year and a half later, Parker Ranch has not apologized to Plaintiffs, let alone even acknowledged publicly that the fire started on Parker Ranch land. Meanwhile, Plaintiffs to this day are dealing with overwhelming dust, infertile soil, and land that is simply uninhabitable for livestock and unworkable for ranchers.

Today Plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit in the Third Circuit Court, State of Hawaii against Parker Ranch and its fencing contractor, K II K Services, Inc. The lawsuit alleges several claims against Parker Ranch and K II K and seeks redress for the extensive harm and damage that resulted from the fire and continues today.

Lifelong Waimea resident, Plaintiff Nicole Kepano said: “Even 17 months after the fire, we are living and dealing every day with its effects. We have no vegetation, trees or windbreaks to break up or filter the wind and dust. People in town can see those big dust storms up on the hill; we are directly in line of those storms.”

Kepano added: “What tugs at my heart is that we are people of Waimea. We are farmers, we are ranchers, and just like Parker Ranch, we are stewards of this land. The difference is, we are not wealthy people. We are regular people who poured our blood, sweat, tears, heart and soul into this land for our families and for this community.”

Plaintiffs’ attorney, Peter Olson of Olson & Sons explained: “This was the largest documented fire in Hawaii’s history; Parker Ranch bears responsibility. Parker Ranch owes it to the fire victims and to the public to acknowledge that responsibility.”

Kepano concluded: “We know accidents happen, but the simple solution is what we are taught when we are kids; kala mai ourselves, apologize for our wrongdoing, and make things right – ho‘oponopono. Whatever it takes. That’s the Hawaiian way.”

Plaintiff April Wana said: “The dust is suffocating to this day. We can no longer use our land, and our kids and our grandkids can’t enjoy it like we used to.” April’s husband, Jason Mattos, is a dedicated cattle rancher who explains: “The land cannot even support one cow now, it’s just dust and weeds where there used to be beautiful green grass.”

Plaintiff Janine Sills added: “What took Rodney & me 20 years to build, it took the fire 20 minutes to destroy. We’re devastated, it destroyed everything, including our quality of life.”

Plaintiffs’ attorney, Bridget G. Morgan-Bickerton of Bickerton Law Group, said: “Under Hawai‘i law, a landowner who causes a destructive and devastating fire resulting from peculiarly risky activity on its property will be held accountable for resulting harm.”

CONTACTS:

James J. Bickerton, Esq.
bickerton@bsds.com
808-624-7514
Bridget G. Morgan-Bickerton, Esq.
morgan@bsds.com
808-624-7524

Attorneys for Plaintiffs
Bickerton Law Group, LLLP

Assistant to Mr. Bickerton and Ms. Morgan-Bickerton – Karen Kaneshiro:
808-599-9576

Peter S.R. Olson, Esq.
polson@hawaiinuilawyer.com
808-331-3113
Robert K. Olson, Esq.
John L. Olson, Esq.

Attorneys for Plaintiffs
Olson & Sons, Attorneys at Law