Justia Hawaii Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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In this case, the Supreme Court clarified the proper timing of Alvarado calculations, which determines the reimbursement due the insurer from a third-party settlement, and the reimbursement process for an insurer when the amount of workers' compensation (WC) benefits the insurer has already dispensed to the employee is less than the amount it owes the employee for its share of attorney's costs and fees for the third-party action.Petitioner received WC benefits from Respondent. Petitioner brought suit against the owner of the building in which she was injured and reached a settlement. Respondent then sought reimbursement of the WC benefits it had paid to Petitioner under Haw. Rev. Stat. 386-8 and Alvarado v. Kiewit Pacific Co., 993 P.2d 549 (Haw. 2000). At issue was whether certain WC benefits that Respondent owed Petitioner were properly classified as "paid compensation" and whether the process of Respondent's reimbursement of WC benefits exceeded the amount it had previously contributed to Petitioner as "paid compensation." The Supreme Court held (1) Alvarado calculations shall be performed based on the date on which the employee receives the third-party recovery; and (2) an insurer's "share" of the attorney's fees and costs the employee incurs while pursuing third-party recovery is based on the insurer's total WC liability. View "Moranz v. Harbor Mall, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming the order of the circuit court denying Appellant's motions in limine to offer hearsay evidence, holding that the circuit court did not err in denying the motions without entering findings of fact on the record.On certiorari, Appellant argued that the ICA erred by concluding that the circuit court may deny a motion in limine without providing findings of fact on the record in violation of Haw. R. Pen. P. 12(e). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Rule 12(e) does not govern motions in limine; and (2) Haw. R. Evid. 103(b), the specific standard governing the admissibility of evidence and motions in limine, provides discretion to trial courts resolving evidentiary issues regarding whether to make findings of fact. View "State v. Marroquin" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming the circuit court's order affirming the final decision of the Employees' Retirement System (ERS) Board and dismissing Appellant's appeal, holding that Appellant was entitled to present argument on his exceptions to the ERS Board and to have the Board consider the merits of his exceptions.The ERS denied Appellant's application for service-connected disability retirement benefits after suffering a back injury. ERS subsequently received a document filed by Appellant entitled "Petitioner's Proposed Decision." The ERS Board later issued a final decision concluding that Appellant's filing did not constitute exceptions and confirmed its denial of his application. On appeal, Appellant argued that the ERS Board's proposed decision did not automatically become a final decision because he had timely filed exceptions. The circuit court and ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court remanded this case to the ERS Board for further proceedings, holding that Appellant's "Petitioner's Proposed Decision" filing satisfied the standard for exceptions and that Appellant was entitled to present argument on his exceptions. View "Watanabe v. Employees’ Retirement System" on Justia Law

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In these consolidated appeals arising from Kenneth Skahan's claims for workers' compensation benefits against his former employer and its insurance carrier (collectively, Employer), the Supreme Court vacated in part the judgments of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming Labor and Industrial Relations Appeals Board's (LIRAB) decisions, holding that the ICA erred in part.Skahan injured his back while working for Employer, and Employer accepted workers' compensation liability. After Skahan's employment with Employer ended, he experienced mid and low back pain and was diagnosed with diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH) and filed multiple claims for additional workers' compensation benefits. LIRAB determined that Skahan's DISH injury was compensable because it was causally related to his work injury but that his low back injury was not compensable. The ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated in part, holding (1) the ICA erred in holding that Employer rebutted the Haw. Rev. Stat. 386-85 presumption that Skahan's low back claim was for a covered work injury; (2) LIRAB's finding that Skahan's injury was permanent and stationary and at maximum medical improvement by April 19, 2013 was clearly erroneous; and (3) LIRAB's conclusion of law ending Skahan's temporary total disability benefits on April 19, 2013 was clearly erroneous. View "Skahan v. Stutts Construction Co." on Justia Law

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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

Posted in: Personal Injury
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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

Posted in: Personal Injury