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State reaches $15.4M settlement over deaths of 2 hikers in 2006

By Ken Kobayashi

LAST UPDATED: 1:31 p.m. HST, Mar 19, 2012

The state has reached an out-of-court settlement that pays $15.4 million to the relatives of two hikers who fell to their deaths at Kauai's Opaekaa Falls in 2006.

The settlement is subject to approval by the state Legislature.

It resolves a lawsuit over the deaths of Elizabeth Ann Brem, 35, of California and her cousin Paula Andrea Gonzalez Ramirez, 29, of Colombia who were visiting here when they fell from a trail at the state park Dec. 19, 2006.

Honolulu attorney Mark Davis, who represented Brem's family, said they will receive $15 million. He said Brem was a successful lawyer in one of the nation's largest law firms.

"She had an extremely bright career ahead of her, but the family decided they would settle the case for this negotiated amount to give them closure to the tragedy and move on," he said.

Kauai lawyer Teresa Tico, who represented Ramirez's family, said they will receive $425,000.

Tico said Ramirez was a businesswoman in Colombia, but not earning as much as Brem which meant the economic loss of Ramirez's death was lower.

Tico said Ramirez's mother is relieved she doesn't have to "relive the tragedy of her daughter's death, which is every parent's worst nightmare."

Tico said the important point for the families of both women is that the state was held accountable for the deaths.

Kauai Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe issued a ruling last year holding the state liable for the deaths for failing to warn them of the dangers of the trail.

The lawyers notified Watanabe of the settlement last week, canceling the nontrial scheduled to start today in her courtroom on the amount the state must pay the relatives.

Davis said he was seeking at least $30 million, while Tico said the economic loss of Ramirez's death was $850,000.

Joshua Wisch, spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, had no immediate comment, but said a hearing on a request to cover out-of-court settlements is scheduled to be heard tomorrow by the House Judiciary Committee.

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