In this article, we'll examine some key points of Hawaii law that may affect a wrongful death claim filed in the state's civil court system. We'll discuss who may bring this kind of civil action and what damages may be available if the lawsuit succeeds. We'll also look at the time limits for filing wrongful death claims in Hawaii under the state's applicable statute of limitations.
Defining Wrongful Death in Hawaii
Wrongful death claims in Hawaii are governed by Hawaii Revised Statutes Section 633-3, which specifically states that a wrongful death is any death caused "by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of any person." A wrongful death may be caused by a car accident, slip and fall, or another type of accident. It can also arise from an intentional wrong like an assault and battery.
A wrongful death is similar to a personal injury claim in that both types of claims depend on some harm being caused to one person by the negligence, wrongful act, or default of another. The key difference between these claims is that in a wrongful death case, the injured person is no longer available to bring the claim to court. Instead, another person must bring the claim to court on the deceased person's behalf.
Who May Bring a Hawaii Wrongful Death Claim?
Hawaii law states that only certain individuals may bring a wrongful death claim to court, and the right to do so is based on the person's relationship to the deceased. The following people may bring a wrongful death claim in Hawaii:
- the personal representative of the deceased person's estate
- the surviving spouse of the deceased person
- the "reciprocal beneficiary" of the deceased person
- the deceased person's children, father, or mother, and
- anyone who was financially dependent upon the deceased person at the time of his or her death.
If the deceased person was a minor, the child's parents may bring the claim. If the parents have also passed away, however, a guardian may need to be appointed before the wrongful death case can proceed.
A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit. As such, it is brought to court by the personal representative or beneficiaries directly. Any liability in the case is expressed solely in terms of money damages. In these ways, a wrongful death claim differs from a criminal case, which is brought by the state and in which culpability is addressed with jail or prison time, probation, or other penalties.
In Hawaii, a deceased person's personal representative or beneficiaries may file a wrongful death claim in court even if a criminal case related to the death has also been filed by the state.
Time Limits for Filing a Hawaii Wrongful Death Case
Hawaii also has a time limit, or "statute of limitations," for bringing a wrongful death lawsuit to court. In Hawaii, the personal representative or beneficiaries have two years from the date of death to file the wrongful death claim. If the case is not filed within two years, the court will almost certainly dismiss the lawsuit.
Because certain factors can change how the statute of limitations runs, if you are coming up against the two-year time limit it is important to speak to an attorney who practices wrongful death law in Hawaii.
Damages in a Hawaii Wrongful Death Case
In a Hawaii wrongful death case, damages may be available for a variety of losses. The personal representative of the estate may seek damages related to the "reasonable expenses of the deceased's last illness and burial," including:
- funeral and burial expenses
- medical expenses related to the deceased person's last illness or injury, and
- lost wages, including the value of compensation lost as a result of the untimely death.
In addition, beneficiaries or family members may seek damages directly related to their losses, including:
- loss of society, companionship, comfort, consortium, or protection
- loss of marital care, attention, advice, or counsel
- loss of care, attention, advice, or counsel of a reciprocal beneficiary
- loss of filial care or attention, and
- loss of parental care, training, guidance, or education.
Except for funeral and burial expenses, any damages recovered in a wrongful death case are paid directly to the beneficiaries. They do not become part of the deceased person's estate and are not taxed as if they are part of the estate.