NEW YORK – Marianne Madoff of White Plains struggled to hold back tears Wednesday afternoon as she answered questions about the wrongful death lawsuit she and her husband have filed against two tour companies that led a hike along Hawaii’s shoreline that led to their son Tyler’s death.
Tyler Madoff’s parents announced at the Manhattan office of their attorney Susan Karten that they had filed the lawsuit Tuesday against Bold Earth Adventures and Hawaii Pack and Paddle in U.S. District Court in Honolulu. The grieving parents of the Scarsdale High School student said the lawsuit isn't about money, but about holding the companies to account so no other family has to go through what they have.
“The decision of the Madoff family to file this lawsuit was a very difficult one, and it was made only after they learned that their son didn’t die because of a rogue wave,” Karten said.
In the days after the July 4 incident that swept the teen out to sea, the Madoffs went to Hawaii to help the U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue mission. After they returned home to White Plains, Karten said, they learned that the four adult tour guides led the group of 12 teens to an area where they weren’t scheduled, or allowed, to go.
Hawaii Pack and Paddle is one of four companies that hold permits to operate tours in the area of the Kealakekua Bay. On the July 4 tour, Karten said, the two Hawaii Pack guides and two Bold Earth guides encouraged the teens to veer off the designated trail they were hiking to stop at a tide pool, where Tyler Madoff and a half-dozen other teens were swept off the rocks. The guides reportedly called it the "fun zone," Karten said. The current dragged Madoff and one other teen into the ocean. The other teen was rescued and resuscitated. Madoff's body was never found.
Both Bold Earth and Hawaii Pack refused to comment.
“The lighthouse/tide pool area is outside of the authorized landing or trail area allowed by permit," said Deborah Ward, spokesperson for the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The family seeks punitive damages for negligence and infliction of emotional distress, and the lawsuit lists multiple causes of action. The lawsuit alleges that Bold Earth didn't perform proper background checks on group leaders, including Andrew Mork.
The Bold Earth website says group leaders can have only one traffic violation, but Mork, Karten said, had two traffic violations and had been convicted of disorderly conduct and possession of marijuana.
Bold Earth founder and President Abbott Wallis was surprised to hear that information, Karten said.
"You can imagine how the Madoffs felt," Karten said.
Karten and the Madoffs will return to Hawaii soon to begin pretrial procedures. Karten said she doesn't have a time frame on when a trial would begin.
The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources is conducting an investigation into the July 4 incident and will consider enforcement action only when that has been completed.