Hawaii Personal Injury Laws & Statutory Rules
Learn about personal injury fault and liability rules, damage caps, the statute of limitations, and more in Hawaii.
In this article, we'll highlight a few of the key laws that can affect both a personal injury lawsuit and an insurance claim after an injury in Hawaii.
Deadlines to File an Injury Lawsuit in Hawaii
Hawaii has a deadline, known as the statute of limitations, that affects how much time you have to file a lawsuit in the state's civil court system after you've suffered an injury. This time limit is two years, and it usually starts running on the date of the accident.
For injury claims against a city, county, or state government agency, you have two years to file an action. See: Injury Claims Against The Government
Comparative Negligence Rules in Hawaii
Sometimes, you may file an insurance claim or court case against another person or company, only to hear that person or company insist that you are partly or completely responsible for the accident that injured you. In situations like these, Hawaii applies a comparative negligence rule that reduces or eliminates damages depending on the percentage of fault assigned to you.
Here’s an illustration. Suppose you’re shopping in a Hawaii grocery store one day when you slip and fall on a spill. You didn’t see the spill because you were busy reading the label on a product. Eventually, your percentage of fault is calculated at 10 percent, and the store’s percentage is calculated at 90 percent.
If your total damages are $1,000, the comparative fault rule will apply to reduce your damages to $900, which equals the $1,000 total minus $100 (representing your 10 percent of the fault). If you are found to be 50 percent or more at fault, however, your damages award drops to zero automatically, and your chance to collect from any other at-fault party is eliminated. Hawaii courts are required by law to apply this rule in personal injury cases that make it through trial, and it's a safe bet that an insurance adjuster may even bring it up during settlement negotiations, so be prepared.
Hawaii is a "No-Fault" Auto Insurance State
Hawaii is one of the few remaining states that follow a “no-fault”
system when it comes to car accidents and how insurance coverage is used
to compensate losses. In a no-fault system, the first step for anyone
injured in a car accident is to file a claim with their own insurance
coverage, regardless of who is at fault for the accident. People who
have been injured in a car accident usually can't step outside the
confines of no-fault (and try to pursue a claim against the at-fault
driver) unless certain thresholds are met.
In Hawaii, you may only file a lawsuit in court against the at-fault driver if:
- the accident resulted in over $5,000 in benefits paid (medical expenses or other damages) under the no-fault policy, or
- you suffered serious and permanent injuries as a result of the accident -- specifically, loss of use of a body part or body function, or permanent and serious disfigurement that causes mental or emotional distress.
If you've been injured in a car accident in Hawaii, read up on no-fault car accident claims.
"Strict" Liability for Dog Bite/Attack Cases
In many states, dog owners are protected (to some degree) from injury liability the first time their dog injures someone if they had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous. This is often called a "one bite" rule. In Hawaii however, a specific statute (Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 663-9) makes the owner "strictly liable", meaning regardless of the animal's past behavior, the dog owner is responsible for a personal injury caused by his/her dog.
Damage Caps in Hawaii Injury Cases
Damages in a personal injury case are
often “capped,” or limited. Each state makes its own rules for damage
caps, which include how much the caps should be, which types of injuries
they should apply to, and what kinds of damages are capped.
In Hawaii, non-economic or “pain and suffering” damages are capped at $375,000 in medical malpractice cases. Some exceptions exist, however, including damages for mental anguish. It's important that this cap does not apply to all injury cases, just those stemming from medical malpractice.