Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Hawaii

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In this case raising two questions concerning Hawaii law of workers’ compensation as it relates to permanent partial disability (PPD) awards, the Supreme Court held (1) a PPD award for an unscheduled injury that is not comparable to a scheduled injury must be supported by some factual finding of a determinate percentage of impairment of a physical or mental function of the whole person; and (2) a PPD determination may be based on a claimant’s post-injury inability to perform the usual and customary work activities in the position the claimant occupied prior to the injury. In the instant case, the Labor and Industrial Relations Appeals Board (LIRAB) awarded Employee $250 in PPD benefits. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) vacated LIRAB’s ruling and remanded for a determination of whether Employee had suffered a permanent impairment and, if so, the percentage of the impairment and the award of PPD benefits based on that percentage. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated the Board’s $250 lump sum award and remanded to LIRAB for it to determine the relevant percentage of Employee’s impairment, as well as an award of PPD benefits based on that percentage. View "Ihara v. State" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a negligence action against the State and the State Department of Transportation (collectively, the State) after a rockfall occurred on the state highway on which Plaintiffs were driving and a boulder struck Plaintiffs’ vehicle, resulting in their injuries. The circuit court entered judgment in favor of the State, concluding that the State breached a duty of care owed to Plaintiffs but that the State was not liable because Plaintiffs failed to prove legal causation. The Supreme Court vacated the circuit court’s judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding (1) the circuit court misapprehended the relevant standard for evaluating legal causation; and (2) the State failed to establish that it was relieved from liability under the discretionary function exception with regard to the duty recognized by the circuit court. View "O’Grady v. State" on Justia Law

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Health insurers do not have a broad, unrestricted right of subrogation against third-party tortfeasors who cause injury to their insureds but, rather, are limited to reimbursement rights established by statute. In this personal injury case, the circuit court ruled that Haw. Rev. Stat. 663-10 and/or Haw. Rev. Stat. 431:13-103(a)(1) abrogated Hawai’i Medical Service Association’s (HMSA) contractual and common law rights in subrogation against a third-party tortfeasors responsible for injury to its insured. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) a health insurer does not have equitable subrogation rights against a third-party tortfeasor in the context of personal injures; (2) a health insurer’s subrogation and reimbursement rights are limited by section 663-10 and section 431-13:103(a)(1); (3) any contractual provision that conflicts with section 663-10 is invalid; and (4) section 663-10 takes precedence over HMSA’s subrogation rights. View "Yukumoto v. Tawarahara" on Justia Law

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John Hasircoglu was an employee of a subcontractor to FOPCO, Inc., the general contractor on a tunnel construction project on Molokai. In response to a request by the State, FOPCO identified Donald Clark and Michael Estes, neither of whom were FOPCO employees, as “project superintendent and key personnel.” The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of FOPCO on all claims. The intermediate court of appeals affirmed on the grounds that Estes and Clark were not agents of FOPCO, and therefore, FOPCO could not be held vicariously liable for their alleged negligence. The Supreme Court vacated in part and otherwise affirmed, holding (1) there existed a genuine issue of material fact as to whether there was an agency relationship between FOPCO and Estes and/or Clark based on actual express or implied authority; and (2) summary judgment was proper as to Plaintiffs’ remaining claims. View "Hasircoglu v. FOPCO, Inc." on Justia Law

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RT Import Inc. filed a complaint against Jesus and Mila Torres seeking damages for merchandise allegedly misdelivered by WFS to the Torreses, which was then converted by the Torreses. RT Import and the Torreses agreed to resolve their dispute through binding arbitration. The arbitrator found that the Torreses committed the intentional tort of conversion and awarded RT Import damages. The arbitrator also found that the Torreses were responsible for arbitration fees and costs. The circuit court granted RT Import’s motion to confirm the final award and awarded RT Import $106,711.62 in damages and $8,355.49 for arbitration attorney’s fees and costs. The Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) affirmed the circuit court’s confirmation of the final arbitration award and judgment. The Supreme Court vacated the circuit court’s judgment as to $4,738.74 of the $8,355.49 for RT’s arbitration attorney’s fees and costs and otherwise affirmed, holding that the circuit court erred by including in the judgment confirming the arbitration award $4,738.74 directly billed by RT Import to the Torreses, which was not a part of the final award. Remanded. View "RT Import, Inc. v. Torres" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of dispute between the Association of Apartment Owners of Royal Aloha, its former property managers, and its former commercial tenants. The AOAO installed an electricity submetering system and submitted readings of each unit’s electricity submeter to the managing agent, who would bill each owner for electricity. For certain years, some commercial tenants were never billed for electricity, and some were erroneously billed for a portion of those electricity costs. The AOAO sued its former property managers for, inter alia, breach of contract for the billing errors. The AOAO also sued the commercial tenants to recover the unbilled or erroneously billed electricity costs. The circuit court granted summary judgment for all defendants, concluding that all claims were barred under the doctrine of laches. The Intermediate Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the defense of laches applies only to equitable claims. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that laches is a defense to legal and equitable claims alike. View "Association of Apartment Owners of Royal Aloha v. Certified Management, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs brought a wrongful death action against Kamehameha Investment Corporation (KIC), the developer of a hillside area, and Sato and Associates, Inc. and Daniel Miyasato (collectively, Sato), the civil engineer. KIC tendered defense against Plaintiffs’ claims to Sato pursuant to a hold harmless clause in a project consultant agreement between Sato and KIC. KIC filed a cross-claim against Sato, alleging that Sato had agreed to defend and indemnify KIC against Plaintiffs’ claims. The trial court granted KIC’s motion for partial summary judgment against Sato. Relying on Pancakes of Hawaii, Inc. v. Pomare Properties Corp., the Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) affirmed, concluding that Sato had a contractual duty to defend KIC in the wrongful death action. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA’s judgment, holding (1) Haw. Rev. Stat. 431:10-222 renders invalid any provision in a construction contract requiring the promisor to defend “the promisee against liability for bodily injury to persons or damage to property caused by or resulting from the sole negligence of willful misconduct of the promisee, the promisee’s agent or employees, or indemnitee”; (2) Pancakes does not apply to defense provisions in construction contracts; and (3) the scope of a promisor’s duty to defend imposed by a construction contract is determined at the end of litigation. Remanded. View "Arthur v. State, Dep’t of Hawaiian Home Lands" on Justia Law

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After Defendant performed surgery on Plaintiff’s back, Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging medical negligence and negligent failure to obtain informed consent. Defendant moved for summary judgment, alleging that he was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff’s claim of negligent failure to obtain informed consent because Plaintiff did not have medical expert testimony as to the “materiality” of the risk to support his claim. The circuit court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant as to both of Plaintiff’s claims. The Supreme Court vacated the circuit court’s judgment as to the claim of negligent failure to obtain informed consent, holding (1) the common law materiality factors do not apply to a claim of negligent failure to obtain informed consent, and the circuit court erred in relying upon them instead of on Haw. Rev. Stat. 671-3(b); (2) consequently, Defendant was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law based on lack of expert testimony as to the common law materiality factors; and (3) the circuit court erred in concluding that Defendant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff’s claim of negligent failure to obtain informed consent. View "Garcia v. Robinson" on Justia Law

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Gene Wong was employed by Hawaiian Airlines, Inc. (HAL) as a pilot until he retired. Upon retiring, Wong became eligible to receive medical insurance paid for by HAL. Wong claimed that, as a result of misinformation he received from the employee benefits director, he did not complete the necessary forms to enroll in Medicare Part B coverage for almost a decade. Wong filed suit against HAL, alleging negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and unfair or deceptive practice (UDAP). The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of HAL, concluding that (1) Wong’s negligence and negligent misrepresentation claims were preempted by the Railroad Labor Act (RLA) because any duty HAL owed would be derived from HAL’s obligations to retired pilots under a collective bargaining agreement between HAL and the Airline Pilots Association, and (2) the UDAP claim failed because the deceptive act did not occur in the conduct of any trade or commerce. The Intermediate Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated in part and affirmed in part, holding (1) the record in this case did not support federal preemption of Wong’s negligence and negligent misrepresentation claims because these claims were not dependent on the Pilots Agreement; and (2) summary judgment was correctly granted on Wong’s UDAP claim. View "Wong v. Hawaiian Airlines, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, the former Chief of the General Medical & Preventative Services Division at the Hawaii Department of Health, filed a tort complaint against the State and Senator Rosalyn Baker, alleging that Baker eliminated his position in retaliation for whistleblowing activities. Baker filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that she was immune from suit based on legislative immunity, that the claims were untimely, and that the complaint failed to state a claim. The circuit court granted in part and denied in part Baker’s motion to dismiss, finding, as relevant to this appeal, that Baker was not entitled to dismissal on the basis of legislative immunity. Baker appealed. The Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) dismissed the appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA’s order and remanded to the ICA for determination of the appeal on the merits, holding that the ICA had jurisdiction to hear Baker’s appeal because the circuit court’s order was an immediately appealable collateral order. View "Greer v. Baker" on Justia Law