Last week, the Kauai County Council moved forward with a bill to require those visitors and residents rescued to take responsibility and pay for the extreme costs of both ocean and land rescues on the Garden Island.
Bill 2910 proposes individuals pay for all search and rescue over $1,000.
The discussion centered around Bill 2910, which proposes empowering the county attorney to assess individuals for potential payment of search and rescue expenses exceeding $1,000.
Bill 2910, as drafted, is attached below. The council is expected to vote on the bill on December 6 .
“If they are disregarding the warning signs and putting our responders at risk, no, they should pay. People must start taking responsibility for their actions and the risk they pose to our first responders. That is my biggest concern. Disregard for that has no excuse.”Mel Rapoza, Kauai Council Chair
Council member Felicia Cowden was the sole member to vote no on the proposed bill. She said, “These adrenaline-charged youths that have reckless courage and difficulty recognizing boundaries, and limits, a lot of them come from families that cannot pay for it.”
When we read the bill, however, it says: “Rescue Operation means the effort to free or remove an individual or individuals placed in a situation or distress….” It seems to include any rescue and not just from trespassing or hiking on closed trails.
Some of the key takeaways from the attached bill include these expenses:
- Materials and supplies, and compensation for employees’ time and efforts devoted specifically for the purpose of the rescue operation.
- Rescue equipment usage, including helicopters, boats etc.
- Other special services specifically required for the rescue operation.
- Medical expenses incurred as a result of the rescue operation.
- Legal expenses incurred as a result of rescue operations, including efforts to recover expenses pursuant to this bill.
Regarding trespassing and intentional disregard for safety:
“Any and all persons who cause or contribute to the placement of an individual or individuals in a situation of distress or peril, via any act of omission which constitutes an intentional disregard for the individual or individuals’ safety, and which results in a rescue operation shall be liable to the County for all recoverable expenses resulting from the rescue operation… Intentional disregard for safety include, but are not limited to, intentionally disregarding a warning or notice.” – Bill 2910.
Issues are heightened when trespassing occurs, as is made clear in this bill. The debate arises over who should bear financial responsibility for rescues of individuals venturing beyond warning signs or breaching locked gates and sustaining injuries. Here in Hawaii, there is growing consensus that the onus should fall on the injured persons.
The Hawaii State Legislature, too, has been grappling with this matter for several years, and Hawaii has noted that six other states already implementing charges for search and rescue resulting from negligence. Conversely, some states, like Colorado and Utah, provide rescue insurance at a nominal cost instead of reimbursement.
You’ll remember not long ago at perilous Queen’s Bath on Kauai, a Florida visitor was airlifted by Kauai firefighters after a fall-related injury. Despite the site being closed to all visitors, the incident unfolded.
Then at Wailua Falls, the rescue of a 67-year-old visitor from California who slipped and fell 25′ off the trail made the news. After receiving on-site treatment for multiple head injuries, he was hospitalized. Wailua Falls, one of Kauai’s most spectacular waterfalls with its 173′ drop, is accessible from the top, but venturing further involves trespassing and poses serious risks.
There have been countless Kauai visitor emergency helicopter evacuations.
These raise questions about who should bear the costs. In another incident, a 32-year-old Californian was airlifted from the Kalalau Trail at Haena State Park due to a knee injury. Despite being offered transportation to the hospital, the individual declined further assistance, leaving Kauai with expenses for air transport, ambulance services, and personnel. Who exactly should cover these costs?
And not long ago on the same trail, three hikers faced challenging winter weather and trail conditions, requiring Air 1 first responder helicopter assistance. After being transported to Hanakapiai Beach, the hikers continued their journey. Again, the question arises: who should be responsible for their associated expenses?
Then, a California hiker with unspecified injuries received a helicopter evacuation from the Kalalau Trail to Princeville Airport, subsequently requiring transportation to Lihue for emergency room treatment. Just before that, a 53-year-old female Utah visitor sustained injuries after jumping from a rope in Kapaa, necessitating air evacuation. Once more, the issue emerges – who should foot the bill for rescues?
State legislature entertains similar anti-trespassing proposal.
Earlier this year, the Hawaii legislature, anxious to move forward with an anti-trespassing and reimbursement, began but thus far did not complete that job with SB 786.
We’ll be hearing much more about resues and intentional disregard for safety in this debate. What’s your take on this?2023-11-15-ph-bn-2910