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Hawaii Personal Injury Law: The Basics

Around 30,000 visitors deplane in Hawaii every day. They are greeted with a lei, welcomed with aloha during their visit, and hopefully carry some of that spirit home with them. But not everyone makes it off the islands unscathed. And, let’s face it, us locals get into our fair share of accidents as well.

So, if you’re injured in Hawaii and think it’s someone else’s fault, whether you’re a tourist in Hilo or kama’aina, you may have some questions about legal liability and financial compensation. Here is some basic information about Hawaii personal injury law, and where you can turn for more resources.

What to Do If You’re Injured in Hawaii

Everyone’s safety is paramount, so you’ll first want to make sure that you and anyone else injured in an accident receive medical attention. And if possible, you can begin documenting the incident in case you need critical information later. Any photographs, witness interviews, police or other official reports, and even your own notes regarding what happened could be helpful. You should also keep track of any medical diagnoses or recommended treatment.

For example, if you’re rear-ended because you slowed down to gawk at a waterfall but the person behind you was busy looking at the ocean on the other side, you’ll want to make sure everyone, including yourself, is alright. Take some pictures of the scene and damage to the vehicles, request a copy of the police report, and keep copies of medical bills and hospital records.

The Hawaii Injury Claims Process

Your next steps will generally depend on where and how you’re injured. In the example above, you may need to contact the rental car agency or your personal auto insurance company. For workplace injuries, you’ll need to follow state and employer guidelines after contacting your manager. And if you’re injured at a public beach park in Honolulu or on a hiking trail, there may be special rules requiring you to file a notice with a government agency or municipal entity.

Whether through private insurance, workers’ compensation, or settlement offers, almost all injury claims get handled without the need for a lawsuit or trial. Those that don’t may begin a phase called “discovery,” during which both sides will gather as much information about the incident as possible. Discovery investigations can include interviews and oral depositions, written requests for documents, and consulting with doctors and other expert witnesses.

Be aware that many settlement offers require you to relinquish your right to file a personal injury lawsuit later and may include nondisclosure clauses barring you from discussing the terms of the settlement. You should never agree to a personal injury settlement without first consulting with an experienced lawyer.

Personal Injury Liability in Hawaii

Figuring out whether someone else is responsible for your injuries, and who, and then proving it in court, will all depend on the specifics of how, where, and why your injuries occurred.

General Negligence in Hawaii

Negligence will be relevant in most personal injury lawsuits, regardless of how you’re injured. Negligence can be a tricky legal concept, but it essentially comes down to proving four main elements:

  • That the defendant owed you a duty of care, normally defined as acting as a reasonable person would under the same circumstances
  • That the defendant breach that duty of care, either through specific actions or, in some limited circumstances, failing to act
  • That the injury would not have occurred but for the breach, and that the breach, and not some other incident, directly caused your injury
  • That you suffered actual injuries or property damage for which the court can compensate you

Additionally, Hawaii follows so-called “modified comparative negligence” rules, so your own negligence may be an issue in your injury claim as well. For instance, if you slipped and fell on a snorkel tour boat out of Kona, but you were on your third Mai Tai at the time, that could be a factor in reducing how much you could recover for your injuries.

Hawaii’s comparative negligence scheme is based on percentages — so the amount you might recover could be reduced based on your percentage of fault as long as you’re not more at fault than any other party or combination of parties. So, if a jury thinks your inebriation was 25 percent the reason you slipped, and the other 75 percent was the boat’s wet deck, you would still be entitled to compensation for your injuries, but only 75 percent of your loss. However, if a jury determines that drinking was 51 percent to blame or more, you could recover nothing.

Hawaii Premises Liability

If you’re injured at a hotel, vacation rental, or a public park or store, the property owners or managers could be liable. Like negligence, premises liability is based on a few factors:

  • An unsafe condition on the property
  • That the owner, manager, or occupant knew or should’ve known about
  • But failed to correct it or warn you
  • The condition caused your injury

Therefore, property owners owe visitors a duty of care, but it depends on the kind of visitor: Trespassers don’t need warnings about obviously dangerous conditions on their property, but social guests or customers may warrant extra work. Additionally, be sure to read all signs posted on trails, parks, and beaches and follow instructions accordingly. Failure to do so could prohibit future injury claims.

Hawaii Product Liability

There are also special rules for manufacturers, holding them liable for injuries caused by defective products. Under the theory of “strict liability,” you don’t need to prove negligence like in other cases — you only need to demonstrate that a product contained a design, manufacture, or warning defect and your injuries occurred because of the defect.

Unfortunately, in Hawaii, if the only harm was to the defective product itself, you cannot collect damages. So, if your new surfboard snapped in half, but you weren’t hurt, you’ll need to try and get a refund rather than suing in court. However, Hawaii law allows product liability lawsuits based on personal injury against designers, manufacturers, and even retail stores.

Available Damages in Hawaii Personal Injury Claims

There are three ways to compensate someone for personal injuries: economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages. As it sounds, economic damages repay someone for their medical bills and expenses, repairs for property damage, and lost wages. Non-economic damages try to address other consequences of injuries, like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium. And finally, courts may award punitive damages to punish bad actors and deter future bad behavior.

Some states place limits, or “caps,” on the amount you can receive for your injuries. And while Hawaii does not cap economic or punitive damages, the state does limit non-economic damages to $375,000 in most cases.

When You Need to File a Lawsuit in Hawaii

Every state has laws that limit the amount of time after an injury occurs to file a lawsuit, generally beginning from date the accident or when the injury occurs. Hawaii’s “statutes of limitations” give you two years to file a personal injury in most cases. If the lawsuit is based on medical malpractice, the clock starts ticking from the time you could have reasonably discovered the harm, but cannot exceed six years from the date of the incident.

Hawaii Personal Injury Lawyers

Most people resolve personal injury claims quickly and without the need to go to court or even file a lawsuit. However, you may consider hiring a personal injury attorney if you do not receive a response to your requests for compensation, or if proposed settlement offers don’t fully compensate you for your losses. And, if someone claims that you were at fault for their injuries, you’ll definitely want legal representation.

Personal injury lawyers don’t need to be expensive. While the rate lawyers charge usually varies depending on their experience and expertise, most personal injury attorneys offer initial consultations free of charge to assess your case. And some lawyers may agree to take on your claim for a “contingency fee,” meaning they only get paid if you do. So, if you have further questions about an injury claim, contact a local Hawaii personal injury attorney today.