Hawaii is a paradise to many people, but even in paradise, accidents and other mishaps happen. Whether you live in Hawaii or are just visiting, if you've been injured in an incident that wasn't your fault, you might have a personal injury claim. Personal injury law (also called "tort" law) allows an injured person to get financial compensation (called "damages") from the person or entity who caused the harm.
Here's a rundown of important personal injury laws in Hawaii, including how much time you have to file a personal injury lawsuit, what happens when you're partly at fault for your injuries, and whether Hawaii has limits—called "caps"—on personal injury damages.
Many types of accidents and intentional torts can lead to personal injury lawsuits, including:
In Hawaii, civil lawsuits involving damages of up to $40,000 are heard in Regular Claims Court, a division of the District Courts. Jury trials and civil cases involving damages exceeding $40,000 are held in the Circuit Courts. Disputes involving damages of $5,000 or less can be filed in Small Claims Court.
Not all disputes over injuries end up in court. You might be able to resolve your personal injury case through an insurance claim. If you're unable to settle your insurance claim or your claim is denied, you can file a personal injury lawsuit.
You start a personal injury lawsuit by filing a complaint against the person or entity that harmed you (the "defendant") in court. Your complaint should explain what happened and why the defendant owes you compensation for your injuries and losses.
If you're representing yourself in a civil court case in Hawaii, you are called a "self-represented litigant" (SRL). The Hawai'i State Judiciary has links and resources for SRLs, but SRLs have to know and follow all of the same laws and rules as lawyers who represent clients.
Pursuing a personal injury lawsuit is complex and time-consuming. A lawyer can answer your questions and take on the burden of preparing and litigating your case in court. Most personal injury lawyers offer free consultations and take cases on a contingency basis, meaning you won't owe your lawyer a fee unless you get a settlement or court award.
Hawaii, like all states, has laws called "statutes of limitation" that put deadlines on how long you have to file a personal injury lawsuit. The consequence for missing the deadline is severe—you'll almost certainly lose your right to file a lawsuit and get compensation for your injuries.
You've typically got two years to file a civil lawsuit for compensation for "damage or injury to persons or property" in Hawaii. In most cases, the two-year window opens on the date of your injury.
(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 657-7 (2023).)
Hawaii recognizes several exceptions to the general statute of limitations. Here are a few of the most common exceptions. Talk to a lawyer if you have questions about how Hawaii's statutes of limitation apply to your case.
If a person under 18 years old is injured, the two-year statute of limitations doesn't begin to run until the person turns 18.
If an "insane" person is injured, the two-year statute of limitations doesn't begin to run until the disability ends.
If a person serving a determinate prison sentence is injured, the two-year statute of limitations doesn't begin to run until the person is released from prison.
(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 657-13 (2023).)
Some types of personal injury lawsuits have different limitation periods or special rules that apply.
Medical malpractice lawsuits must typically be filed no later than two years after the patient first discovers or reasonably should have discovered the injury. But Hawaii has a limit, called the "statute of repose," that says that injured patients can't file lawsuits more than six years after the date the malpractice occurred no matter when they discovered or should've discovered their injuries.
The only exception is if a health care provider knew about and failed to disclose the malpractice. In that case, the statute of limitation is paused ("tolled") until the malpractice is discovered.
Minors have more time to file medical malpractice lawsuits. See Hawaii Medical Malpractice Laws and Statutory Rules for details.
(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 657-7.3 (2023).
If you want to file a claim against the State of Hawaii for property damage or bodily injury, you can complete a Claim for Damage or Injury. The Risk Management Office will investigate and respond to your claim in about 60 days.
You have two years to file a personal injury lawsuit against the State. Submitting a claim doesn't stop the statute of limitations, so don't delay in filing a claim and a lawsuit if you aren't able to settle your claim.
Learn more about injury claims against the government.
(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 661.5 (2023).)
In some cases, the defendant you're suing over an injury may turn around and say that you're the one who is entirely or partially to blame for the accident or incident that caused your injuries.
Here are the rules that apply in Hawaii when you share blame for your injuries.
Hawaii follows what's called a "modified comparative negligence" rule. Under this rule, you can recover compensation when you share blame for an accident or incident, but only when your share of the blame is less than the defendant's. In other words, if you're less than 51% at fault for your injuries you can recover. If you're 51% or more at fault for your injuries, you don't get anything.
If you're eligible to recover under this rule, your compensation is reduced by a percentage that's equal to your share of fault for the accident.
(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 663.31 (2023).)
Let's say you're in a car accident in Hawaii. The other driver carelessly makes a left turn and hits you. You might have been able to avoid the accident, but you were driving over the speed limit. You file a car accident lawsuit against the other driver.
The case goes all the way to trial. The jury finds the other driver 70% at fault for the accident for making an unsafe left turn. The jury finds you 30% at fault for speeding. If your damages total $100,000, you will get $70,000 ($100,000 - $30,000) because your compensation is reduced by your percentage of fault (30%). But if the jury decides that you were 51% or more at fault for the accident, you'll get nothing from the other driver.
Hawaii has a no-fault car insurance system, which means that after most car accidents, an injured person's own insurance policy (called "personal injury protection") covers certain out-of-pocket expenses like medical bills and lost income, no matter who was at fault for the accident.
You may step outside of Hawaii's no-fault system and file a personal injury lawsuit in court against the at-fault driver when the accident:
Learn more about Hawaii No-Fault Car Insurance.
(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 431:10C-306 (2023).)
Hawaii holds dog owners to a high standard. A dog owner or handler is legally responsible for injuries and property damage the dog causes unless the injured person was trespassing or provoking the dog. Dog bite victims typically don't have to prove that the owner or handler knew the dog was dangerous.
Learn more about state dog bite laws.
(Haw. Rev. Stat. § § 663-9, -9.1 (2023).)
Hawaii caps "pain and suffering" at $375,000 in most personal injury cases. The cap doesn't apply in certain cases involving multiple defendants.
If you have questions about damage caps and how to value your personal injury damages and compensation, talk to a lawyer.
(Haw. Rev. Stat. § § 663-8.7, -10.9 (2023).)
If you are thinking about filing a personal injury lawsuit in Hawaii, talk to a lawyer who practices in Hawaii. Personal injury law and courtroom rules are complex. If you make a mistake, like miscalculating the statute of limitations, your case will be over before it gets started.
Learn more about how to decide when to hire a personal injury lawyer and how to find a personal injury lawyer. When you're ready, you can connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.