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Personal injury firms prepare to sue Navy for water contamination

Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility Pump Room. (Shannon Haney/U.S. Navy)

Former Hawaii Attorney General Margery Bronster has paired up with a mainland firm to seek compensation for Navy water users, marking the latest legal action taken in response to the Navy’s Red Hill water contamination saga.

Other firms have taken aim at private housing companies, which are easier to sue. Bronster’s firm, Bronster Fujichaku Robbins Attorneys at Law, and a mainland personal injury firm, McCune Wright Arevalo, LLP, are taking aim at the Navy itself.

“We are looking forward to fighting the fight, ” said Bronster during a press conference Wednesday morning.

The Federal Tort Claims Act, which governs legal claims against the federal government, makes it more difficult to sue the federal government. An administrative claim must first be filed with the Navy seeking monetary compensation. Following a decision by the Navy’s Judge Advocate General, the claimant then has the option of taking the case to court.

The law firms already have indicated that they do not expect the claims to be treated to their satisfaction and are gearing up for a class-action lawsuit.

A spokeswoman for the Navy said that it was too late on Wednesday afternoon to reach the Washington, D.C., office that handles legal matters for a response. Top Navy officials in recent weeks have indicated that they are already preparing for monetary claims resulting from the water contamination. They have provided to military families and civilians about the process of filing claims for any personal property loss and began a health registry for military families on the Navy’s water system to help track any long-term health effects that may be attributed to the water contamination.

In late November, residents on the Navy’s water system in and around Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam began reporting a fuel or chemical odor coming from their taps, as well as health symptoms, such as headaches, rashes, vomiting and diarrhea. The Navy later confirmed that one of its drinking water wells was contaminated with jet fuel, which is believed to have come from its Red Hill fuel facility.

Since then, several thousand military families and an unknown number of nonmilitary residents have been displaced from their homes as the Navy works to clean its pipes and ensure that the water is safe to drink. State health officials have said that the health effects from the water contamination should subside quickly after discontinuing use, but have also cautioned that long-term effects are not fully understood. Long-term, chronic exposure is believed to pose a much greater health risk. The current contamination emergency is believed to have been acute.

Bronster told reporters that the firms have about 14 claimants. However, the firms only provided the Honolulu Star-Advertiser with one of the claims, which was filed on Wednesday. Elisapeta Alaimaleata, a civilian resident, is seeking $1 million for personal injury claims and $39, 160 for property damage. She says that her family began detecting a petroleum smell in their water and that she experienced skin rashes, lesions and itching.

Additional claims are being filed on behalf of four other family members, according to a spokesman for the law firms, who said the family is seeking $5 million total.

Alaimaleata’s claim says that as civilians, they were not provided with alternative housing until the second week of December.

Just Well Law, a firm based in Texas, is also soliciting clients and held a meeting on Saturday in Waikiki to discuss legal actions against the Navy.


(c) 2022 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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