Practice Areas

Surfer sues city over her infection

April 10, 2007

KEN KOBAYASHI

A 41-year-old Waikiki woman is seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city for an infection she claims to have developed when 48 million gallons of raw sewage were discharged into the Ala Wai Canal last year.

In a lawsuit filed yesterday, Lisa F. Kennedy claims city officials should have posted warning signs that would have prevented her from surfing in the vicinity four days after sewage was dumped into the canal beginning on March 24 last year.

Kennedy was at the surf spot called Kaisers in the waters near the Hilton Hawaiian Village and suffered cuts to her left buttock when she fell from her surfboard onto a coral reef, the lawsuit states. She then developed the infection from the waters that had an "unacceptably" high level of enterococci and other sewage-related bacteria from the sewage.

The pumping was the result of a rupture in a major sewer line in Waikiki.

City officials are denying any liability.

City spokesman Bill Brennan said that immediately after the discharge, the city posted warning signs in areas the city believed would be affected by the sewage. On the next day, March 25, the city posted additional warning signs, including at the Ala Wai Boat Harbor parking lot where surfers enter the water to get to Kaisers.

City officials pumped the sewage into the Ala Wai waterway for six days after a 42-inch pipe ruptured, causing what is considered the worst sewage mess in state history.

A temporary bypass line along the Ala Wai was completed late last year. A permanent line is scheduled to be completed this fall.

Kennedy, a waitress at a Waikiki restaurant and a novice surfer, said she was unaware of the sewage dumping when she, her boyfriend and friends visiting from Lake Tahoe went surfing that day.

She wouldn't have gone in the water and the group would have done something else if she had seen warning signs, she said at a news conference to announce the filing of the suit.

She said the infection was physically, mentally and emotionally "devastating." She spent 11 days in a hospital, underwent surgery and is awaiting another operation, is permanently disfigured and didn't return to work until August.

Fried said they will be asking in the range of "six figures" from the city for the pain Kennedy suffered, her medical bills and lost wages.

He said he was reluctantly filing the suit because he had hoped the dispute could have been resolved earlier in talks with city officials, but they offered only a "minimal amount."

Brennan said that early efforts to mediate the dispute failed.

He said the city "strongly disagrees" with the lawsuit's contention that the only bacteria that infected Kennedy came from the sewage spill and that the city warnings were not sufficient.

Brennan said the city has acknowledged responsibility for the spill and will be spending $38 million to prevent a recurrence.

Fried, however, said officials did not post any warning signs at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, where Kennedy entered the water to go to the surf spot.

"The city is still in denial about this," he said.