Hawaii Car Accident Laws

The deadline for filing a car accident lawsuit in Hawaii courts, the state's comparative negligence law, and rules for reporting a car accident in Hawaii.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

If you've been injured or had your vehicle damaged after any kind of traffic accident in Hawaii, now is probably a good time to understand your legal options. In this article, we'll discuss a number of state laws that could have a big impact on any car accident claim you decide to make, including:

  • the two-year deadline for filing most car accident lawsuits in Hawaii's civil court system, and
  • Hawaii's "modified comparative negligence" rule, which allows for financial recovery only when the claimant's level of responsibility for causing the accident is less than that of the other party (or parties) involved.

(Important note on no-fault: Hawaii is a no-fault car insurance state. That means, after a car accident, you typically need to file a claim under your own personal injury protection coverage to get compensation for medical bills and other financial losses, regardless of who caused the crash. Only if your injury claim meets certain prerequisites can you step outside of no-fault and bring a claim directly against the at-fault driver. The discussion in the following sections presumes that you're able to do that. For details on Hawaii's no-fault rules, skip to the last section of this article.)

The Hawaii Car Accident Statute of Limitations

A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a strict time limit on your right to bring a lawsuit to court.

It's important to note that the statute of limitations does not apply to a car insurance claim. Any insurance company, whether your own or the other driver's, is going to require you to make a claim—or at least give the insurer notice of an incident that could trigger a claim—"promptly" or "within a reasonable time" after the accident. That usually means a matter of days, or a few weeks at most.

Hawaii Revised Statutes section 657-7 sets the filing deadline for almost all lawsuits arising from a car accident. This statute says: "Actions for the recovery of compensation for damage or injury to persons or property shall be instituted within two years after the cause of action accrued, and not after."

Let's put this law in the context of a vehicle accident: If anyone was hurt in the—whether a driver, passenger, motorcyclist, bicyclist, electric scooter rider, or pedestrian—or had their vehicle or other personal property damaged, they must get their lawsuit filed against any potential defendant within two years. The same goes for anyone looking to file a lawsuit over damage to (or total loss of) a vehicle. For these lawsuits over car accident injuries or damage to a vehicle or other property, the two-year "clock" starts running on the date of the accident.

If someone died as a result of the car accident, and their family member or a representative of the estate wants to file a wrongful death claim, the same two-year deadline applies, but the "clock" starts running on the day of the accident victim's death, which could be later than the date of the accident itself.

It's crucial to understand and abide by the statute of limitations as it applies to your situation. That's because if you try to file your lawsuit after the statute of limitations deadline has already passed, the defendant is sure to ask the court to dismiss the case, and the court is very likely to agree that a dismissal is appropriate.

Even if you're confident that your case will be resolved through the car insurance claim process, you'll want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit in case you need to—if for no other reason than that you'll have more leverage during settlement talks. If you think you might be running up against the filing deadline, you may want to contact an experienced Hawaii car accident attorney.

Comparative Negligence in Hawaii Car Accident Cases

Suppose you're seriously injured in a Hawaii car accident, and you take your case to court. The jury, after hearing all the evidence, decides that the other driver was responsible for the accident—but that you too bear part of the blame. What happens next? How does this verdict affect your right to compensation?

Under Hawaii Revised Statutes section 663-31, the state follows a modified "comparative negligence" rule. This means you can still recover damages in a car-accident-related lawsuit, but your award will be reduced according to your share of negligence—as long as your share of liability is not greater than that of others. In other words, you can't be more than 50 percent responsible when compared with other parties in the case. If you are, you can't receive any compensation in court.

For instance, suppose that the jury determines that your injuries, pain and suffering, and other losses total $10,000. However, the jury also thinks that you were 10 percent responsible for the crash. In that situation, the total amount of your damages, $10,000, is reduced by 10 percent, or $1,000, leaving you with a total award of $9,000.

The comparative negligence rule binds Hawaii judges and juries (if your car accident case winds its way to trial), and it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. Also keep in mind that since there is no empirical means of allocating fault, any assignment of liability will ultimately come down to your ability to negotiate with a claims adjuster or to persuade a judge or jury.

Reporting a Car Accident in Hawaii

Hawaii Revised Statutes section 291C-16 says that, after a car accident, the driver of any vehicle involved must report the collision "immediately by the quickest means of communication" (i.e. via cell phone call) if it:

  • resulted in injury to, or death of, any person (such as a driver, passenger, or pedestrian) or
  • resulted in total property damage to an apparent extent of $3,000 or more.

Hawaii's No-Fault Car Insurance Rules

As touched on above, Hawaii is one of a dozen or so states that follow a no-fault car insurance scheme. That means injured drivers and passengers must typically turn first to their own personal-injury-protection car insurance coverage to get compensation for medical bills, lost income, and other out-of-pocket losses after a crash, regardless of who might have been at fault. A claim against the at-fault driver is only possible in certain scenarios. Get the details on Hawaii's no-fault car insurance rules.

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