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Hawaii lifeguard lawsuit immunity bill endangered

Lifeguards in Hawaii had almost total protection against personal injury lawsuits since 2002. There is ambiguity on whether this will continue, because a bill intended to remove some of this immunity is facing a veto by Governor David Ige.

Lifeguards were legally protected at every beach in the state from civil lawsuits for recreation accidents or other mishaps for the last 15 years. This law, Act 170, was scheduled to automatically expire on June 30.

SB 562, the proposal to replace Act 170, was a compromise among the parties. It would have protected county lifeguards working only at state-owned beaches instead of all beaches. The bill would have also ended the automatic sunset or termination provisions contained in Act 170.

One opponent argued that the bill was unfair to other first responders. Firefighters, police and EMTs do not have this legal lawsuit protection.

Others opposed the bill because it removed the right to sue for negligence or wrongful death at the beaches. Negligence victims should have the right to pursue litigation in some cases, according to the Majority Floor Leader of the House

Governor Ige said that he is considering a veto of this measure because it required the attorney general to defend all the counties in any civil action for negligence or wrongful act or omission at a state beach park. The bill does not contain any exceptions to this blanket legal representation.

The governor must sign or veto this bill by July 11, or it will automatically become law. The Hawaii State Association of Counties lobbied for the introduction of this bill. One of its representatives argues that that lifeguards would not have been protected if they acted negligently.

Tourists and other negligence face obstacles from immunity and obtaining evidence supporting a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. An attorney can help pursue their rights to compensation and overcoming defenses in court.

Source: The Garden Island, "Gov. David Ige could veto lifeguard protection bill," Jenna Carpenter, June 27, 2017

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