Hawaii hazards

A young man pes into Queen’s Bath on Kauai’s north shore.

Who is to blame when people are injured or die during a Hawaii Vacation?

Recently we posted an article I wrote called Falling for Kipu on Kauai, an area made poplar by guidebooks. Three days later, the Garden Island newspaper reported that a man drowned there, the fifth in as many years.

About the same time, Amanda C. Gregg of MidWeek Kauai profiled Sue Kanoho, the head of Kauai’s Visitors Bureau. Kanoho advocates legislation holding guidebook and travel publications liable for injury or fatality while taking illegal advice, such as trespassing on private property. The Hawaii “guidebook bill” died due to the publications saying it would violate their First Amendment rights.

Yahoo! News has joined the discussion with Audrey McAvoy’s article, “Popular Kauai swimming hole gets deadly reputation.” The article explores several perspectives regarding this controversial topic. An ER doctor sees injuries from Kipu Falls every few months, and rescue workers were sent there 10 times last year. John Blalock, deputy chief of the Kauai Fire Department, says the deaths and injuries are because people engage in high risk activities while on vacation. A sympathetic tour boat captain doesn’t believe the falls should be closed.

Then, there is the perspective of the property owner. “The pool and falls are on private property owned by Grove Farm,” writes McAvoy. “Closing it off would be an expensive undertaking for a small Kauai company that has only about a dozen employees. A fence could break and Grove Farm could be held responsible for not maintaining the barrier. If the company posts warning signs, it would be acknowledging the area is risky, exposing itself to liability.”

I have witnessed people engaging in high risk activity. Last November I hiked part of the Kalalau Trail, up to Hanakapai Beach. A “No Swimming” sign was posted at the entrance to the beach. It clearly explained that this was a dangerous area, and to reinforce the point, the sign had hash marks of how many people had died there. Out in the surf, a young man swam, his body gesture was one of joy, shadowed with defiance.

This month, someone died after being sucked into a blowhole off Maui. People get caught in Hawaii’s riptides and drown every year, despite the “When in doubt, don’t go out,” guideline. During the winter, when surf is high on Kauai`s north shore, people swim in Queen’s Bath where dangerous waves crash into this deep tide pool. There is a “No Swimming” sign with 28 hash marks posted.

What do you think? Should areas like Kipu Falls and Queen’s Bath be closed off? Should guide books and travel publications be held liable? Do you think people should be accountable for their own actions? What should the state be responsible for?.

Posted by: Bruce Fisher