Hawaii Slip and Fall Laws

Before you bring a Hawaii slip and fall injury claim, understand the state's lawsuit-filing deadline and the shared liability rules that could affect your case.

Whenever you've suffered an injury as a result of a slip and fall on someone else's property in Hawaii (whether it's residential or commercial property), it might make sense to look into your options for getting compensation for your losses -- especially if it looks like the negligence of the property owner played a part in what happened.

A number of Hawaii laws will almost certainly affect any lawsuit you decide to file over your slip and fall. Two of the most important of these are the statute of limitations deadline for filing a slip and fall case in Hawaii's court system, and the state's "comparative negligence" rule, which can limit your right to recover compensation if you bear some amount of responsibility for the accident. Even if you're pretty sure your case will reach a personal injury settlement out of court, you still need to keep these state laws in mind, so read on for the details.

The Slip and Fall Statute of Limitations in Hawaii

First, a little background: A statute of limitations is a state law that sets a strict time limit on the right to have a lawsuit heard in civil court. Specific time limits vary from state to state, and depending on the kind of case being filed.

Hawaii Revised Statutes section 657-7 sets the filing deadline for almost all lawsuits arising from a slip and fall accident in the state. 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” (emphasis added).

That two-year deadline covers a broad range of potential lawsuits, including a claim for injury after a slip and fall on someone else’s property, as well as a property damage lawsuit stemming from a slip and fall (maybe you were uninjured when you fell, but you broke an expensive watch and you want the property owner to replace it).

In either kind of case -- whether the lawsuit is for injury or property damage, or both -- the "clock" starts running on the date of the slip and fall, and the success or failure of your case will most likely turn on whether you can prove that the defendant failed to take reasonable steps to keep the property safe and to prevent your accident. Learn more about premises liability and proving fault for a slip and fall.

The next logical question is, "What happens if I don’t get my lawsuit started before the deadline passes?” If you try to file the initial complaint more than two years after your slip and fall accident, you can count on the defendant (the property owner) asking the court to dismiss the case, and the court is almost sure to grant the dismissal. That's why it’s so crucial to understand the statute of limitations and abide by the time limit as it applies to your specific situation.

In some rare situations the clock may pause or "toll," giving you more time to get your case started. Talk to a personal injury attorney for the details on these exceptions in Hawaii.

Comparative Negligence in Hawaii Slip and Fall Cases

If you're thinking about making a claim against a property owner for injuries suffered in a slip and fall accident, be prepared to hear the other side argue that you bear some amount of responsibility for what happened. And be prepared to counter this argument, because if it is successful, you could see a significant chunk of your settlement or court award taken away.

If your Hawaii slip and fall case makes it to court, the state’s “comparative negligence” rule will apply to determine how much compensation you can still receive if you were at all negligent in connection with the accident. You can find this rule codified at Hawaii Revised Statutes section 663-31, which says: “Contributory negligence shall not bar recovery in any action...to recover damages for negligence resulting in death or in injury to person or property, if such negligence was not greater than the negligence of the person or…persons against whom recovery is sought, but any damages allowed shall be diminished in proportion to the amount of negligence attributable to the person for whose injury, damage or death recovery is made.”

Translation: In any Hawaii personal injury case where the plaintiff is found to be at fault, that person can still get compensation for their injuries, as long as their share of liability does not exceed 50 percent. If it does exceed 50 percent, then the plaintiff can’t recover anything at all from the defendant or anyone else.

So, let’s say the jury finds that you are 30 percent responsible for your slip and fall. They also find that your damages (including your medical bills, lost income, and "pain and suffering") total $10,000. That will leave the property owner on the hook for $7,000 (that’s the original $10,000 minus the 30 percent that represents your share of fault).

So, what kind of arguments can you expect to hear from the property owner? Some common allegations include:

  • You were in a part of the property where customers or visitors aren’t expected to be, or where they aren’t allowed.
  • You weren’t paying sufficient attention to where you were walking (you were using your phone, for example).
  • The dangerous property condition should have been obvious to you, or was cordoned off by cones and signage (reasonable steps were taken to protect visitors, in other words).

It’s easy to see why it’s so important to make a strong case against the property owner in your Hawaii slip and fall case.

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