What Should Maui Fire Victims Expect from Their Law Firm?

Ashes were still smoldering in Lahaina when mainland lawyers began arriving with big promises and a sense of urgency. In the months since, survivors have been inundated by advertisements from lawyers seeking to sign them on for legal services. We know firsthand because we talk with fire survivors every day as we work on the Maui fires litigation, and we see the big promises in other law firms’ advertisements and solicitations.

There’s no doubt that lawyers can play an important role in helping Lahaina residents rebuild their lives. But fire survivors should know a few things about hiring an attorney and filing a lawsuit.


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What should Lahaina fire victims expect from the attorney or law firm they’ve hired?

Communication and Access: At a bare minimum, you should expect your law firm to keep you informed. For most Lahaina fire survivors, this litigation will be their first and very likely the most important legal matter they’ll deal with in their lifetimes. It’s a lengthy and confusing process that may take years to resolve, so communication is critical. At the least, your lawyer should answer the phone, return messages and voluntarily provide regular updates.

Reasonable contingency fee: A contingent fee is the agreed-upon percentage of any verdict or settlement that a lawyer or law firm keeps after a lawsuit successfully resolves through a settlement or verdict. Contingency fees are important because cases like these require a large upfront investment in time and resources. A law firm in contingency fee litigation assumes all risks and pays upfront costs and expenses.  Victims (called “plaintiffs” in civil litigation like this) only pay if they win.

However, Lahaina survivors report that lawyers are charging a wide range of contingent fees, with many as high as 40 percent. Because we’re in the community and will be here after the lawsuits are resolved, Galiher DeRobertis & Waxman made the decision to keep contingent fees for Lahaina fire lawsuits at 20 percent — far below our regular rate for other types of litigation. We’re not aware of any firms with lower contingent fee rates.

Local vs. Out-of-State Legal Representation: Hawai‘i is unique geographically and culturally. There’s a long and controversial history of business interests arriving from the mainland and thinking they can dictate how things should be done. That approach can result in conflict and misunderstanding — and sometimes worse. Many mainland-based attorneys simply don’t appreciate local culture and local sensitivities. Bottom line, you should be comfortable with your selection and feel that your attorney shares your perspective and values.

Can any lawyer or law firm handle wildfire lawsuits?

The sheer number of victims and amount of damage promise that this will be a long and groundbreaking legal fight for justice. A law firm should have experience handling complex injury and property damage litigation against large corporations. Hawai‘i-based Galiher DeRobertis & Waxman has a distinguished history of representing Hawai‘i residents who have been harmed by exposure to asbestos and other toxic contamination, as well as survivors of sexual abuse and a range of serious injuries and wrongful death. We have the resources and experience to take on the most complicated cases against powerful corporations. The team includes attorneys, paralegals and staff who were born and raised here. Galiher DeRobertis & Waxman trial lawyer Beth Nardi is a Lahaina homeowner who was in Lahaina on August 8th and had to flee with what she could carry after flames engulfed her home. Firm Managing Partner Ilana Waxman was born and raised on Maui and has been actively volunteering since the fire, advocating for mortgage relief for Lahaina families, raising funds for pro bono and low cost legal services, and providing legal assistance.

We are Maui lawyers.  We care what happens in Lahaina, and we are active in this litigation because we want to help our community rebuild. We are doing everything we can to help get people back on their feet, in homes, and in jobs.

How will these lawsuits progress?

Hundreds of lawsuits will be filed before this is over, and they will generally progress together through the court system. Because they share the same basic facts, the judge has standardized the language in the legal filings so that all lawsuits being filed are similar. A small committee of lawyers will be appointed to handle the early investigation and information gathering process known as discovery and will file legal motions and handle arguments leading up to trial. Like the mass tort litigation against Pacific Gas & Electric following fires in California, the majority of these cases are likely to settle either before a trial or after a series of individual trials.

Can I change lawyers if I’m unsatisfied with how they’re handling my case?

Your lawyer should share your priorities and respect your wishes.  Changing lawyers is a decision that should not be taken lightly, but at the end of the day you are in charge of your own case and you should be comfortable with the lawyer you have chosen. In Hawai‘i, you have the right to change lawyers even after a personal injury lawsuit has been filed.

How Do We Fight for You?

Seek justice with the help of our experienced Hawai‘i attorneys. We’ve battled corporate giants on behalf of individuals like you for over 40 years, aggressively fighting those responsible for personal injury and wrongful death caused by corporate wrongdoing and fraud committed against the government. If you’ve suffered catastrophic injury or loss caused by corporate negligence or believe you have a government whistleblower case, we can help. Contact us for a free consultation. Contact is kept confidential.

Category: Maui Fire


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