Family of hiker reaches $15.4M settlement with State of Hawaii in suit over her falling death

After misreading a warning sign at a Hawaii state park in 2006, Elizabeth Warke Brem, a prominent California lawyer, and her companion fell 300 feet to their deaths when they unexpectedly reached a steep cliff shrouded in thick vegetation. The women’s families brought suit against the state seeking damages for their deaths. The Hawaiian state court ruled in favor of the victims’ families in March 2011, finding that the State Park Administrator had actually made the area more dangerous by posting the sign, which implied hikers should follow the same path Ms. Brem chose, and by failing to close off public access to that area despite full knowledge of its popularity with tourists and local visitors. These errors could have been easily avoided, the court observed, had the State Park employees taken reasonable care to inspect the area regularly.

Under Pennsylvania state tort law, government agencies generally are immune from tort liability, unless an exception applies. The Pearce Law lawyers would rely on 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8542(b)(3) to argue the State was liable in a case factually similar to Brem v. State of Hawaii. The Pennsylvania legislature has granted eight exceptions to the general rule that the state is immune from cases involving injury caused by the government’s negligent violation of an individual’s rights. These include: vehicle liability; care, custody or control of personal property; real property; trees, traffic controls and street lighting; utility service facilities; streets; sidewalks, and; care, custody, or control of animals. Importantly, the state employee must have acted negligently, not willfully or with actual malice, for purposes of attaching liability and receiving damages from the state. A state agency is liable for damages on account of injury sustained by an individual on real property possessed by the state and under the care, custody or control of the state agency. Clients who seek a Philadelphia personal injury lawyer in such a case should be prepared to demonstrate that they were not trespassing on state property and were not engaged in willful misconduct such as possession of drugs, guns, or ammunition at the time of the injury. Whether or not a Pennsylvania jury would award $15.4 million in damages against the State in such a case remains a question for the justice system.