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What is a personal injury claim?

Personal injury claims are claims for damages arising out of the wrongful conduct of others. For individuals harmed through the fault or negligence of another party, Hawaii state law generally provides that the victim is entitled to assert a personal injury claim. Such a claim is an opportunity to receive compensation for the costs associated with the injuries and the resulting damages and loss. Personal injury claims require that the claimant show that they suffered damages and that another party is responsible for those damages, due to their lack of reasonable care, recklessness, intentional conduct or otherwise. Most personal injury claims are filed in response to negligence or failure to exercise the appropriate care situations; strict liability, recklessness, intentional conduct and other bases for liability make up only a small portion of personal injury claims. Intentional conduct, for example, is often not covered by insurance. There are many different reasons why personal injury claims arise. These include car accidents, other motor vehicle accidents, product defect accidents, construction accidents, dangerous dogs and other animals, boating, ocean and maritime accidents, wrongful death, drunk drivers, injuries from falls, electrical accidents, burn accidents, elevator accidents, medical malpractice, other professional negligence, dangerous conditions on property, safety violations and so forth.

Negligence and the "reasonable man" standard

Negligence is the most common type of wrongful conduct which gives rise to liability. In brief- neligence is generally defined as the doing of something which a reasonably prudent person would not have done or the failure to do something which a reasonably prudent person would have done. Hawaii's leading case on this "reasonable man" standard- and hence on the meaning of negligence- is the case of Knodle v. Waikiki Gateway Hotel, Inc., 69 Haw. 376 (1987). Some excerpts from that case help to demostrate the meaning of the "reasonable man" standard which must be met in order to avoid being negligent:

(beginning on page 387 of the Knodle decision)

"Whether the defendant had a duty to take reasonable action to protect the plaintiff from unreasonable risk of harm is, of course, a question for the judge. But what is reasonable and unreasonable and whether the defendant's conduct was reasonable in the circumstances are for the jury to decide. Put simply, perhaps simplistically, what is reasonable care on the part of the defendant is "what a reasonable and prudent person would . . . have done under [the] circumstances." Wong v. City & County, 66 Haw. 389, 394-95, 665 P.2d 157, 161 (1983) (quoting Martin v. Wilson, 23 Haw. 74, 88 (1915))-[footnote 6- see below] "The conduct of [this mythical] person will vary with the situation with which he is confronted." W.P. Keeton, supra, Section 32, at 175. For what is reasonable and prudent in the particular circumstances is marked out by the foreseeable range of danger. Bidar v. Amfac, Inc., 66 Haw. at 552, 669 P.2d at 159.

[Footnote 6 on page 387:

["The courts have gone to unusual pains to emphasize the abstract and hypothetical character of this mythical person. He is not to be identified with any ordinary individual, who might occasionally do unreasonable things; he is a prudent and careful person, who is always up to standard. Nor is it proper to identify him with any member of the very jury which is to apply the standard; he is rather a personification of a community ideal of reasonable behavior, determined by the jury's social judgment. W.P. Keeton, supra, Section 32, at 175 (footnotes omitted).]

"Danger in this context "necessarily involves a recognizable danger, based upon some knowledge of the existing facts, and [p. 388] some reasonable belief that harm may possibly fellow." W.P. Keeton, supra, 31, at 170 (footnote omitted). The test of what is reasonably foreseeable is not one of a balance of probabilities. "That the danger will more probably than otherwise not be encountered on a particular occasion does not dispense with the excise of care." Tullgren v. Amoskeag Manufacturing Co., 82 N.H. 268, 276, 133 A. 4, 8 (1926). The test is whether "there is some probability of harm sufficiently serious that [a reasonable and prudent person] would take precautions to avoid it." Id.; see also Griggs v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., 513 F.2d 851, 859 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 865 (1975); Moran v. Faberge, Inc., 273 Md. 538, 552-54, 332 A.2d 11, 20 (1975); Bean v. Ross Manufacturing Co., 344 S.W. 2d 18, 25 (Mo. 1961). "As the gravity of the possible harm increases, the apparent likelihood of its occurrence need be correspondingly less to generate a duty of precaution." W.P. Keeton, supra, Section 31, at 171 (footnote omitted). [footnote 7- see below] And "[a]gainst this probability, and gravity, of the risk, must be balanced in every case the utility of the type of conduct in question." Id. Thus, the judge's task of imparting what may be reasonable care or the converse to enable the jury to decide if a breach of duty occurred is, to say the least, difficult."

[Footnote 7 on page 388:

["For example, [t]he odds may be a thousand to one that no train will arrive at the very moment that an automobile is crossing a railway track, but the risk of death is nevertheless sufficiently serious to require the driver to look for the train and the train to signal its approach. If may be highly improbable that lightning will strike at any given place or time; but the possibility is there, and it may require precautions for the protection of inflammables. W.P. Keeton, supra, Section 31, at 171 (footnotes omitted)."]

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Recent Personal Injury and Car Accident News and Cases

A new case from the Hawaii Supreme Court recognizes personal injury claims for a viable fetus. This new approach seems consistent with a judicial approach to unborn children that life begins at viability. Castro v. Melchor, SCWC-12-0000753 (March 13, 2018).

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