Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Hawaii
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The Supreme Court held that Plaintiff's injury-by-disease was compensable under Hawai'i's workers' compensation law because the employer failed to overcome the presumption in favor of compensability. Plaintiff filed a workers' compensation claim for injury-by-disease. The Labor and Industrial Relations Appeals Board (LIRAB) rejected the claim, concluding that the employer's Independent Medical Examinations (IME) reports provided sufficient substantial evidence to overcome the statutory presumption in favor of compensability. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA's judgment and the LIRAB's decision, holding that the employer's IME reports failed to provide substantial evidence to meet its burden to produce evidence that, if true, would overcome the statutory presumption that the injury was work-related. The Court remanded the case to the LIRAB with the instruction that Plaintiff's injury-by-disease was compensable under Hawai'i's workers' compensation law. View "Cadiz v. QSI, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this appeal challenging the circuit court's grant of Defendant's ex parte oral motion to dismiss a personal injury action with prejudice, the Supreme Court held that the circuit court abused its discretion in granting Defendant's motion to dismiss. Plaintiff, a pro se litigant, filed a personal injury claim against Defendant. During a pretrial conference at which Plaintiff did not attend Defendant filed his oral motion to dismiss. The trial court granted the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the circuit court abused its discretion in granting Defendant's oral motion to dismiss with prejudice because the record did not provide a valid basis for the dismissal order, and the court failed to make the request findings of fact that would be required to support such an order; and (2) in general, motions must be made in writing with notice provided unless the motion is made during a hearing or trial. View "Erum v. Llego" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the intermediate court of appeals' (ICA) judgment affirming the judgment of the circuit court in favor of Dr. Robert Mastroianni on Plaintiff's claim that Dr. Mastroianni's negligence was the cause of Robert Frey's death, holding that the circuit court erred in holding that Plaintiff failed as a matter of law to present sufficient evidence of causation to make out a claim. Among other things, the circuit court held that it had no jurisdiction over Plaintiff's "loss of chance" claim - a claim that Dr. Mastroianni's negligence caused Frey to lose a chance of recovery or survival - because the claim was not raised before the medical claim conciliation panel (MCCP). The ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the lower courts' judgments, holding (1) while a "loss of chance" is not a separate compensable injury under Hawai'i law, it may be considered in determining legal causation; (2) Plaintiff asserted a medical negligence claim that met the requirements of the MCCP statute, and therefore, the circuit court had jurisdiction over Plaintiff's negligence claim, including its loss of chance arguments; and (3) the circuit court erred in granting judgment as a matter of law to Dr. Mastroianni. View "Estate of Frey v. Mastroianni" on Justia Law

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In this nuisance action, the Supreme Court vacated the circuit court's final judgments and the intermediate court of appeals' (ICA) judgment affirming in part, holding that the ICA erred by concluding that damages are not recoverable for common-law public nuisance actions absent a statute designating the activity as a public nuisance. Plaintiffs alleged that by allowing individuals to live in one of its storage units in violation of land use and public health laws Allied Storage property maintained a public nuisance and that Chung Partners, as a lesser/sub-lessor of the property, had a duty not to maintain the nuisance on the property. The circuit court granted Defendants' motions for summary judgment. The ICA affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs were foreclosed from recovering damages as a matter of law in the absence of a statutory duty. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the matter for further proceedings, holding that, as a matter of law, a claim for common-law public nuisance is cognizable when the plaintiff has suffered individualized harm. View "Haynes v. Haas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeal (ICA) and the Labor and Industrial Relations Appeals Board's (LIRAB) award of attorney's fees to Stanford Masui for his representation of Reginald Botelho in a workers' compensation case, holding that the ICA erred to the extent it held that Haw. Rev. Stat. 386-94 authorizes LIRAB to predetermine an attorney's hourly rate and erred in holding that LIRAB provided an adequate explanation for its reduction of Masui's requested attorney's fee. Masui submitted a request for attorney's fees requesting an hourly rate of $325. LIRAB approved the request but reduced Masui's hourly rate to $165. The ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA's judgment, holding (1) under section 386-94 LIRAB is not authorized to predetermine a workers' compensation attorney's authorized houry rate to be applied to that attorney's future cases; (2) the ICA did not err in interpreting section 386-94 as granting LIRAB discretion to vary the requesting attorney's hourly billing rate to arrive at an award of reasonable attorney's fees; and (3) the ICA erred in concluding that LIRAB provided an adequate explanation for its reduction of the requested attorney's fees, as required by McLaren v. Paradise Inn Hawai'i LLC, 321 P.3d 671 (2014). View "Botelho v. Atlas Recycling Center, LLC." on Justia Law

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In this case arising from a personal injury lawsuit against the drivers of two vehicles in two separate accidents, one in 2005 and the other in 2008, the Supreme Court affirmed the ICA"s judgment vacating the circuit court's summary judgment in favor of Defendants for the 2008 accident, holding that the circuit court erred. Plaintiff filed a complaint against Leslie Ching for the 2005 accident and Lyanne Kimura for the 2008 accident. Kimura impleaded Dennis Espaniola as a third-party defendant because of his involvement in the 2008 accident. Plaintiff alleged he was able to assert tort liability for the two accidents under either of two exceptions to Haw. Rev. Stat. 431:10C-306(a), which abolishes tort liability with respect to accidental harm arising from motor vehicle accidents occurring in the state. The circuit court ruled that Plaintiff failed to satisfy either exception. The ICA vacated the summary judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the ICA did not err in ruling that the circuit court erred in granting Espaniola's motion for partial summary judgment based on Plaintiff's failure to satisfy the tort threshold; and (2) the ICA did not err in ruling that the circuit court's grant of Espaniola's motion for partial summary judgment was premature. View "Mobley v. Ching" on Justia Law

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he Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) reversing the judgment of the circuit court granting summary judgment to Defendant in this dram shop action, holding that there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether the decedent's contributory negligence exceeded the negligence of Defendant. Plaintiffs asserted a dram shop claim on behalf of their son, who died while riding as a passenger in a vehicle driven by their son's intoxicated cousin, against Defendant, who served the decedent and his cousin alcohol. The circuit court granted summary judgment to Defendant, concluding that because the decedent was also intoxicated at the time of the accident he was not an "innocent third party" with standing to bring a dram shop claim. The ICA reversed, concluding that genuine issues of material fact existed as to the complicity defense and whether the decedent fell within the protected class of innocent third parties entitled to bring a dram shop cause of action. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the complicity defense is inconsistent with application of the contributory negligence defense; and (2) there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the decedent engaged in conduct that was more negligent than that of Defendant's. View "Kuahiwinui v. Zelo’s Inc." on Justia Law

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The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) did not err in ruling that an injury suffered by Plaintiff that arose while she worked as a Public Health Educator IV for the State Department of Health (DOH) resulted from an “accident occurring while in the actual performance of duty at some definite time and place” and was therefore a covered injury under Haw. Rev. Stat. 88-336. Section 88-336 provides service-connected disability retirement benefits under the Employees’ Retirement System’s (ERS) Hybrid Plan to Class H public officers and employees, such as Petitioner. Petitioner submitted an application for service-connected disability retirement in connection with permanent incapacitating injuries she suffered to her elbow, arm, and hand. A hearing officer concluded that Petitioner’s excessive keyboarding over a period of time did not constitute an “accident” because it did not occur at a “specific time and place.” The ERS denied Petitioner’s application. The circuit court affirmed. The ICA vacated the circuit court’s decision and remanded to the circuit court with directions to vacate the ERS Board’s denial of disability retirement to Petitioner. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Petitioner’s injury occurred “while in the actual performance of duty at some definite time and place.” View "Pasco v. Board of Trustees of the Employees’ Retirement System" on Justia Law

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Employees may bring defamation and false light claims against their employer because the Workers’ Compensation Law’s (WCL) bar on claims for injuries incurred in the course of employment does not extend to injuries to a person’s reputation. Petitioners, employees of the County of Hawaii, brought this action against the County, certain County officials, and a private investigation company hired by the County (collectively, Defendants), alleging defamation. The circuit court granted summary judgment for Defendants, determining (1) Petitioners’ claims against the County were barred by the WCL because the alleged injury to their reputations arose through the course and scope of their employment; (2) Petitioners failed to adduce evidence raising a genuine issue of material fact that the County officials had made false statements about them; and (3) the third-party investigator had no duty towards Petitioners. The intermediate court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the summary judgment for Defendants, holding (1) whether one County official’s alleged defamatory statements were true involved a disputed question of material fact; (2) Petitioners’ defamation and false light claims against the County and the second County official in his official capacity were not barred by the WCL; and (3) licensed private investigators owe a duty of care to the subjects of their investigations. View "Nakamoto v. Kawauchi" on Justia Law

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In January 2007, Choy rear-ended Jiminez's vehicle, pushing that vehicle forward, so that it hit the rear of a vehicle driven by Aggasid. Medeiros testified that she was helping Aggasid transport a patient to a doctor’s appointment at the time of the accident and that she began to experience pain in her back after the impact, leading to physical therapy and two surgeries. Medeiros was unable to work for more than three years. Through worker’s compensation, Medeiros received $153,949.75 in medical bill reimbursements and $105,356.62 in temporary and permanent disability benefits. Medeiros sued Choy. Medeiros unsuccessfully sought to preclude witnesses from testifying regarding the presence of an unrestrained child in Aggasid’s vehicle. Choy disputed whether Medeiros was in the course of her employment at the time of the accident and argued that she had lied to secure an unwarranted payout. The jury found that Choy was not the legal cause of her injuries. The Intermediate Court of Appeals vacated, holding that a requested jury instruction, barring consideration of Medeiros’s motive, should have been given. The Supreme Court of Hawaii affirmed and remanded for a new trial. The plaintiff’s motives for bringing suit were irrelevant to the merits of her claim and her credibility as a witness. Given the evidence adduced at trial, the jury should have been instructed as Medeiros requested. View "Medeiros v. Choy." on Justia Law