County, state to be immune from trail lawsuits

There are places on Na Pali Coast’s 11-mile Kalalau Trail, even as it is maintained by state workers, where one misstep and you’re fish food. Even with warning signs, friendly residents who tell of potential dangers and other cautions and precautions, a public-trail accident had long been a multi-million-dollar lawsuit waiting to happen.

Had it not been for a bill passed this session by the state Legislature and recently signed into law by Gov. Linda Lingle, there was a real potential that one of Kauai’s most popular hiking trails, the Kalalau Trail, could have been shut down amid liability concerns, said state Rep. Ezra Kanoho, D-Wailua-Lihue-Koloa.

The public-land liability law calls for posting and maintaining warning signs on improved public lands, which provides state and county governments protection from liability for damages caused by dangerous natural conditions warned of in the signs. The act takes effect Tuesday, July 1, and ends June 30, 2008.

The law became necessary in the eyes of legislators and Lingle after the state was sued after a rockslide killed several people at Sacred Falls Park on Oahu, and at a blowhole site on Oahu similar to Kukuiula’s Spouting Horn county park.

The law is patterned after beach-liability legislation enacted a few years ago, which provides for posting of warning signs and relieves lifeguards from liability associated with ocean rescues, Kanoho said.

It is “important for avoiding potential huge lawsuits, and important for providing signage,” said Kanoho.

“Uncertainty regarding the standard of care that must be exercised by the state or counties to prevent costly lawsuits may result in public recreational assets being closed,” the law states.

The law establishes a risk-assessment committee with representatives from each county, tasked to mitigate potential risks through signage, education and other means.

Business Editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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