Legal Insurrection readers may recall that in January, a false ballistic missile alert was issued by emergency management staff in Hawaii. The result was wide-spread panic and the firing of the employee responsible for the warning.

Now, a man who suffered a heart attack during the alert has filed a lawsuit against the state.

The false missile alert and the state’s failure to cancel it in a timely manner was a substantial factor in causing James Sean Shields’ heart attack on Jan. 13, the lawsuit said.

His girlfriend Brenda Reichel joined the lawsuit, having suffered “emotional upset” from watching him almost die on several occasions. Their lawsuit names the state of Hawaii and the then-administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, Vern Miyagi.

The lawsuit also names unidentified state employees, individuals and entities responsible for the missile alert. The suit seeks unspecified damages.

Shields and his girlfriend were looking forward to a quiet day on the beach when they received the text warning.

They both believed the message was true and ‘were extremely frightened’ and thought ‘they were shortly going to die’, according to the lawsuit.

The couple decided that, if they were going to perish, they might as well die together on the beach.

Reichel’s son, who is in the Hawaii Army National Guard, called her saying the threat was real and asked what they planned to do to seek shelter.

The couple then called their loved ones as they drove to the beach. Shields began to feel a ‘severe and painful burning in his chest’ after he called his son and daughter.

It appears Shields has a fairly compelling case.

The complaint cites a statement from Dr. John S. MacGregor, a cardiologist at the University of California’s San Francisco Medical Center, who told the couple that the missile warning was a “substantial contributing factor in causing the heart attack and cardiac arrest.”

MacGregor said that Shields had no known cardiac disease before that time and noted literature with findings about how severe mental stress can trigger heart attacks. He cited a study in the medical journal Lancet that found a sharp rise in heart attacks when Iraq attacked Israel with missiles during the Gulf War, according to the complaint.

If the case is settled in Shields’ favor, the state could be slammed with even more lawsuits.

Within an hour of the false alarm, paramedics also responded to an 89-year-old man who fell; a 37-year-old woman who got into a car crash; and a 38-year-old woman who called 911 after experiencing anxiety.

In the suit, Shields is seeking an unspecified amount of “special and general” damages.

Attorney Randall Rosenberg is not connected with this case, but specializes in personal injury cases. He said if Shields’ lawsuit is successful, it could open the door to more lawsuits.

“There are probably thousands of people out there who suffered either financial or physical injuries as a result of what happened,” Rosenberg said. “I’m aware, for example, of several car accidents that occurred on the day that the missile alert came up because people were rushing around trying to either get home or get to loved ones or get as far away from the downtown area as possible. So there are a number of car accidents. Those, in my opinion, are all attributable to the state.”

The good news for Hawaii? Its Kilauea volcano has stopped erupting.


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