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Young surfer injured in canoe collision names DHHL director nominee in lawsuit

Kai Keuning, then aged 17, at Queen's Medical Center.
Bickerton Law Group
Kai Keuning, then aged 17, at Queen's Medical Center.

Kali Watson, Gov. Josh Green's nominee to lead the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, is a named defendant in a civil lawsuit against canoe paddlers for colliding with a young surfer near Diamond Head in July 2021.

Kai Keuning, then aged 17, fractured his skull and suffered a brain injury after being hit at Tonggs surf break by a four-man canoe riding a wave.

The family of the teenage surfer filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against the paddlers: Watson, Christopher Flaherty and Christopher Kuaiwa — though more parties could be identified.

Keuning's attorney, James Bickerton, said the paddlers were from the nearby Outrigger Canoe Club.

Keuning lost consciousness on July 10 and was submerged underwater until his surfing partner Ethan Won pulled him out, the suit said.

Lifeguards picked Keuning up with a jet ski and brought him to shore. They did CPR to bring back his pulse and he was transported to Queen's Medical Center.

The lawsuit said he was admitted to an intensive care unit and the cost to date for medical bills has been over $548,000. He also underwent rehab in Hawaiʻi and on the continent, according to Bickerton.

Watson's confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Hawaiian Affairs is scheduled for March 16.

Speaking to Honolulu Civil Beat, Committee Chair Sen. Maile Shimabukuro called the incident a tragedy, but an accident. She said she did not feel the lawsuit would impact the confirmation.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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