Davis Levin Livingston announced today that a successful settlement was reached late Monday night in San Francisco in the wrongful death lawsuit brought by the parents of 15-year-old Tyler Madoff, who disappeared after receding waves dragged Tyler out to sea from a tide pool located at the south end of Kealakekua Bay State Park.
Tyler’s body was never recovered.
Tyler Madoff came to Hawai`i from New York on a Bold Earth Teen Adventure Tour. Bold Earth offers teen adventure tours all over the country to high school students and many ventures to Hawai`i every year to participate in adventure travel. On July 4, 2012, guides from Bold Earth and Hawai`i Pack and Paddle took Tyler and 11 other teenagers on a kayaking trip across Kealakekua Bay, to the Captain Cook Memorial.
Bold Earth Teen Adventures, a Denver adventure company, contracted with Hawai`i Pack and Paddle, a Big Island tour company operating under a permit issued by the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). The DLNR Permit required the group to stay in and around the Captain Cook Monument and allowed them to stay for only 2 ½ hours. Instead, on July 4, 2012, guides from Bold Earth and Hawai`i Pack and Paddle decided to stay late and to lead the teenagers on an illegal, unauthorized hike through the state park to the pahoehoe lava flats facing the ocean at the Napo’opo’o Lighthouse.
Despite the existence of high surf advisories and a high tide, the Bold Earth and Hawai`i Pack and Paddle guides directed the teenagers to sit in tide pools which fill and empty with surging ocean water, often referred to as “toilet bowls.”
A series of large waves came over the lava flats, throwing the teenagers against the walls of the tide pools. The guides assured them that this was the “fun zone,” and encouraged them to stay. A third large wave hit and an inescapable channel of water, heading directly to the edge of a cliff was formed. Tyler’s body was swept along, and he went over the cliff.
Tyler’s family initiated the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawai`i and the family reached a confidential settlement in negotiations undertaken in San Francisco.
Michael Madoff, Tyler’s father, said that he hopes tours will be run more carefully in the future. “We’re just hoping that other families don’t have to go through this. That was really the main thrust of this lawsuit.” The Madoff family will be using some of the monies from the settlement to set up a fund to raise awareness and to support search and rescue in Hawai`i. Michael Madoff said that they intend to make a financial gift to the Hawai`i County Fire Department for their search and rescue efforts which went “above and beyond the call of duty.” The Plaintiffs were represented by Loretta Sheehan and Mark Davis of the Honolulu law firm of Davis Levin Livingston and Susan Karten of New York. Ms. Sheehan:
“The family is resolved to move on from this tragic incident. They hope that Tyler’s memory will provide an incentive for all tour companies to create and enforce safety programs as they interact with Hawai`i’s unique environment. This was an incident that was completely preventable and the challenge is to ensure something like this will never happen again.”