Earlier this month, an appellate court in Hawaii issued a written opinion in a personal injury case brought by the occupants of a vehicle that was struck by rocks that fell onto the highway during a rock slide.
The plaintiffs were driving on a Hawaii highway when a rock slide occurred, and debris contained in the slide struck their vehicle. At the time, Hawaii had a system to rate various roads that are at risk of being affected by rock slides. The area where the plaintiffs were injured was known as an area with the highest risk level. The plaintiffs filed a personal injury lawsuit, claiming that the government was negligent in failing to address the area and implement measures to prevent a slide from occurring.
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the government, finding that while the government was negligent, the government’s negligence was not the cause of the plaintiffs’ injuries. The court concluded that the plaintiffs failed to show that had the government taken action, the slide would have been prevented. The court also determined that the government was entitled to immunity because the decision to have a rock-slide mitigation system was a discretionary one. The plaintiff appealed.
On appeal, the court first determined that the lower court erred in its causation analysis. The court explained that the lower court applied the wrong standard, effectively requiring the plaintiffs to prove that even if the government had taken action, the rock slide would never have occurred. However, the relevant consideration, the court explained, was whether the state’s omission was a “substantial factor” in bringing about the plaintiff’s injuries. Since the lower court did not apply the proper analysis, the case was sent back to the lower court to make the necessary findings.
The appellate court also clarified that the government was not entitled to discretionary immunity. The court explained that while individual decisions about specific areas may fall within the discretionary exception, the state’s failure to have a system at all was outside the scope of discretionary immunity. Thus, on remand, the government will not be entitled to immunity.
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More Blog Posts:
NTSB Issues Report Regarding Last Year’s Fatal Auto-Pilot Crash, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published June 23, 2017.
Court Refuses to Consider Driver’s Negligence When Hearing “Crashworthiness” Case, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published June 2, 2017.