Hawaii Medical Malpractice Laws

If you're filing a Hawaii medical malpractice claim, here's what you need to know about lawsuit-filing prerequisites and the state's limit on damages.

A medical malpractice lawsuit can get pretty complicated. That's true in every state, Hawaii included. Legal issues and medical evidence can get very complex very quickly, and a medical malpractice plaintiff (the injured patient, or the patient's legal representative) needs to comply with a number of strict procedural rules right at the outset of the case. Not only that, but state laws limit the amount of compensation a successful plaintiff can receive in court. In this article, we'll look at some of the most important laws related to medical malpractice claims in Hawaii.

Hawaii's Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations is a state law that sets a limit on the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit. If you try to file your lawsuit after the medical malpractice statute of limitations deadline has passed, you can bet that the doctor or health care facility you're trying to sue will ask the court to dismiss the case. If the court grants the request (which it almost certainly will), that's the end of your lawsuit.

In Hawaii, the statute of limitations for a medical malpractice lawsuit is codified at Hawaii Revised Statutes section 657-7.3, and it says no such case "shall be brought more than two years after the plaintiff discovers, or through the use of reasonable diligence should have discovered, the injury." So, once you know or could reasonably be expected to know that you were harmed by an act of medical malpractice, the clock starts running, and you need to get your lawsuit filed within two years.

The Hawaii law goes on to specify that no medical malpractice lawsuit can be filed "more than six years after the date of the alleged act or omission causing the injury or death." This is known as a "statute of repose," and it's important in cases where a medical error occurs but harm to the patient does not manifest right away, or when medical malpractice ends up causing a patient's death years after the treatment error occurred. For cases like these in Hawaii, even where it is clear that the patient’s death was caused by the medical error, no lawsuit can be filed if more than six years have passed since the error occurred.

This over-arching six-year time limit will be "tolled" (meaning the clock will stop running) during any amount of time in which the defendant (the doctor or other care provider) knows about but fails to disclose any act, error, or omission related to the medical malpractice case.

"Medical Inquiry and Conciliation Panel" Review in Hawaii

Before a medical malpractice lawsuit can be filed in Hawaii's court system, Hawaii Revised Statutes section 671-12 requires that the prospective plaintiff "submit an inquiry" to a "medical inquiry and conciliation panel" consisting of one attorney and one properly-licensed physician.

The inquiry must include:

  • the facts on which the lawsuit will be based, and
  • the names of all health care providers who might be included in the suit.

Submission of the inquiry typically requires payment of a $450 fee, but it may be reduced or waived in certain situations.

After receiving the inquiry, giving notice to all named care providers, and giving each provider a chance to file a written response, the panel sets a date for to consider all evidence, review medical records, and hear from witnesses. The panel then issues a decision, and only if there is a favorable "termination" of the inquiry will the patient be allowed to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in Hawaii's courts.

"Certificate of Consultation" Requirement

Under Hawaii Revised Statutes section 671-12.5, any inquiry filed with the panel must be accompanied by a "certificate of consultation" in which the injured patient (or the patient's attorney or other representative) declares that he or she has:

  • consulted at least one licensed physician with experience in the same medical field in which the potential defendant health care provider practices, or in a closely-related specialty, and
  • concluded that there is a "reasonable and meritorious" basis for the claim.

In situations where this certificate can't be obtained -- because of an impending lawsuit filing deadline, or because of an inability to obtain a proper consultation despite a "good faith" attempt -- exceptions might be made.

(Note: This is just a simplified summary of Hawaii's procedural requirements for medical malpractice lawsuits. For the specifics, and for legal advice that's tailored to your specific situation, it may be time to talk with an experienced Hawaii medical malpractice lawyer.)

The Medical Malpractice Damages Cap in Hawaii

Yes. Hawaii, like a number of states, has passed a law that limits or "caps" certain kinds of compensation in certain injury-related civil cases. Also like most states, Hawaii’s cap applies only to non-economic damages (specifically, "pain and suffering" damages).

Hawaii Revised Statutes section 663-8.7 limits pain and suffering damages to $375,000 in almost any kind of personal injury (tort) case in Hawaii, including medical malpractice lawsuits.

So, even if a jury in Hawaii found a doctor liable for malpractice and awarded an injured patient $1.5 million as compensation for pain and suffering, this law would kick in to reduce that award to $375,000.

But remember, Hawaii’s medical malpractice damages cap does not apply to economic losses stemming from the malpractice. So there is no limit on an injured patient’s ability to get compensation for past and future medical treatment, lost income, diminished earning capacity, and any other calculable financial losses.

It's important to point out that Hawaii's cap on medical malpractice damages does not apply to economic damages, which are losses that include the plaintiff's past medical bills, cost of future medical care, reimbursement of lost earnings, compensation for harm to the plaintiff's ability to work because of the malpractice, and any other provable losses that can be tied to the malpractice and/or to the medical treatment that was made necessary by it.

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