Ka Loko civil suits set for 2009

Those seeking closure for one of Kaua‘i’s deadliest tragedies will have to wait until the year 2009 before the first of two civil trials begins, a judge determined yesterday.

That’s largely due to the arguments made by several defense attorneys that adequate preparation for those accused of negligence in the Ka Loko Reservoir Dam breach will take ample time.

The breach killed seven people and caused millions of dollars of property damage on March 14, 2006, when hundreds of thousands of gallons of water roared down the Wailapa Stream bed.

Because of the breach, Kilauea resident Bruce Fehring and several other plaintiffs are suing property owner James Pflueger, the state of Hawai‘i and Kaua‘i County for wrongful death and property damage. Honolulu native Bette Midler is suing for property damage and loss.

Weighing arguments from both sides, Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe considered the scheduling of the two high-profile cases yesterday afternoon as defense attorneys asked for more time before scheduling a trial date, arguing the estimated length of each trial could be between two to 10 months.

Though attorneys for the plaintiffs revealed their intent to consolidate the two cases — which could save time — attorneys for the other side didn’t agree that expediency was in their clients’ best interests.

Those accused of negligence in the Ka Loko Reservoir Dam breach include the county, the state, car-dealer mogul Pflueger, and Kilauea Irrigation Co., a former C. Brewer & Co., owned by Tom Hitch.

Wesley Ching, one of Pflueger’s attorneys, said that part of the reason more time was needed before the trial date was because the “bodies of four victims” hadn’t yet been recovered and that the lack of death certificates meant an official lack of plaintiffs.

“It is at a very, very early stage to set the case for trial,” Ching said.

Watanabe set jury selection for the wrongful death case against Pflueger to begin at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 2, 2009, blocking off six months for the trial.

Jury selection in Midler’s case is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 7, 2009.

Watanabe blocked off three months for that trial, slated to end Dec. 7, 2009.

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