City to pay $5.25M in Honolulu firefighter suit
The city has agreed to pay $5.25 million to settle a federal negligence and wrongful death lawsuit filed over the death of Honolulu firefighter Cliff Rigsbee.
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The city has agreed to pay $5.25 million to settle
a federal negligence and wrongful death lawsuit filed over the death of Honolulu firefighter Cliff Rigsbee.
Rigsbee, 63, died June 16, 2016, two days after suffering injuries in a Honolulu Fire Department training exercise in the ocean off Diamond Head. He was on a sled being towed through surf by a water rescue craft.
The Honolulu Medical Examiner says Rigsbee died from blunt force injury of the head and neck, which fractured vertebrae in his neck and injured his spinal cord.
According to the lawsuit, Rigsbee’s watercraft and sled went through three 8-foot or taller waves. After the third wave, the watercraft operator looked back and saw Rigsbee lying motionless, facedown in the water about 5 feet away.
Other firefighters, including one who was off duty and surfing nearby, assisted in taking Rigsbee to shore. An ambulance transported him to Straub Medical
Center where he died.
The Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health (HIOSH) Division said HFD failed to identify, evaluate or control workplace hazards and failed to replace the ignition key lanyard to the Yamaha WaveRunner that was
towing Rigsbee. The lanyard is designed to shut off the watercraft when the operator falls or jumps off, but was corroded and broke during the accident. HIOSH handed HFD two citations and
assessed the department penalties totaling $15,400.
The lawsuit, filed by Rigsbee’s son, Clifford McArthur Rigsbee, says the National Weather Service had issued a high-surf advisory for Oahu’s southeast-facing shores for the day of the exercise and that the training commander could not effectively supervise what was happening because he could not see Rigsbee or
the ocean conditions from his position on the shore at Kaimana Beach.
The two sides notified
the court of the settlement March 8, four days before the case was scheduled to go to trial.
Honolulu Fire Chief
Manuel Neves says HFD acknowledges the settlement and hopes it brings closure to Rigsbee’s family, the
department and the community. He says the department misses Rigsbee and will continue to honor his contributions to HFD and the public.
The department says it has reviewed and rewritten its Standard Operating Guidelines for the Rescue Watercraft Program,
retrained all of its operators and trainers and upgraded its equipment to better stabilize the watercraft.