Maui Files Lawsuit Against Cell Carriers for Failure in Wildfire Alerts

Maui County officials have initiated a lawsuit against major cell carriers, including Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile USA, Spectrum Mobile, and AT&T, accusing them of negligence during last summer’s catastrophic wildfires. The lawsuit, filed in state court, alleges that the carriers failed to notify Maui police about extensive service outages, preventing emergency alerts from reaching residents who were urgently required to evacuate.

The county argues that had they been aware of the cellphone service failures, alternative warning methods would have been employed to alert the population about the impending danger. As a result of this communication breakdown, critical evacuation messages sent via cellphone did not reach residents, exacerbating the wildfire’s deadly impact.

In response, T-Mobile has refuted the allegations, stating that it maintained emergency alerts and promptly notified relevant authorities as long as their network was operational. However, representatives from Spectrum declined to comment, and other implicated carriers have yet to respond.

This legal action is part of a series of lawsuits stemming from the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century, which devastated the historic town of Lahaina and resulted in 101 fatalities. Additionally, Maui County is contending with lawsuits concerning its emergency responses and has filed against the Hawaiian Electric Company, accusing them of failing to cut power amidst extreme wind conditions and dryness.

Legal representatives for Maui County have stated that if the county is held liable for damages, the negligence of the cell carriers should be considered a significant contributing factor. They revealed that on August 8 and 9, 2023, despite the valiant efforts of first responders to control the fires and evacuate affected individuals, all 21 cell towers in West Maui, including Lahaina, were completely non-functional.

The lawsuit highlights that the carriers have still not fully disclosed the extent of the outages as required by federal regulations. According to the county, a comprehensive and timely report from the carriers would have prompted the use of other disaster response strategies.

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