A personal injury case in Hawaii is a legal, adversarial process in which an injured person claims that someone else was the cause of their injuries and damages. Examples of personal injury claims include slip and falls, dog bites, motor vehicle accidents, defective products, and medical malpractice.
Where Should I File My Claim?
The jurisdictional limit for filing personal injury claims in Hawaii's District Courts is $25,000. This includes small claims cases of $5,000 or less. If your case's value exceeds $25,000, the county's Circuit Courts have jurisdiction.
In all cases, you are required to file your injury claim in the county where either the accident occurred or where the defendant lives.
Time Limits for Filing Cases in Hawaii
Each case has a time limit in which you must file your case in the appropriate court or risk losing your right to pursue a legal remedy. Most personal injury cases in Hawaii must be filed within two years.
For medical malpractice claims, the statute of limitations is two years from either the date of the negligent act that caused the injury or the date when it could have been discovered through the exercise of reasonable diligence.
If the claim alleges that a foreign object was left inside a body cavity following a surgical procedure, a malpractice action must be filed within one year from when the object was discovered, but no medical malpractice case can be filed more than six years from the date of the negligent act. The statute is tolled, or paused, if the person against whom the suit is brought fails to disclose the act or error that caused the injury that was known to the liable party.
If the plaintiff in a personal injury case is under 18 years of age, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the minor’s 18th birthday. In medical malpractice cases, though, the minor has either until the age of 10 to file or six years from the injury, whichever is longer.
What You Should Expect
Most personal injury cases are settled before the statute of limitations expires, but if the statute of limitations is looming and you must file a lawsuit, you can expect certain documents to be filed and served along with other court procedures:
- Summons and Complaint
- Interrogatories and Request for Documents
- Medical exams
- Mediation and arbitration
Once a Summons and Complaint has been filed and served on the defendant, the defendant has 20 days to file an Answer. The defense attorney usually starts the discovery process by presenting your attorney with interrogatories, or questions, for you to answer about yourself, the damages alleged, and the facts of the accident.
In a deposition, your attorney may ask questions of the opposing party who must answer under oath before a court reporter who prepares a written transcript. You may also be asked questions by the defendant.
You may be required to undergo a medical examination by a medical specialist chosen by the defense attorney. The specialist will generally prepare a written report that you are entitled to receive.
At any point, settlement negotiations may take place. In Hawaii Circuit Courts, the judge can order the parties to participate in an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process before trial. Most cases are ordered to non-binding arbitration where an appointed attorney listens to evidence and arguments in an informal proceeding and issues a decision that the parties may accept or not. If the parties cannot agree on a settlement of the case, a trial date is scheduled.
Is Hawaii a Comparative Fault State?
Hawaii has a modified comparative fault law that limits the amount of recovery if you have contributed to causing the injury. If you are 51 percent or more at fault, you are not entitled to collect any compensation. Otherwise, the amount of compensation you may receive is decreased according to your determined percentage of fault.
Should I Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer?
Hawaii, like all other states, has its own laws and court rules governing how you may prosecute your personal injury claim. Consult a personal injury attorney in Hawaii regarding your legal rights, damages, and representation.