Turbin Chu Heidt Attorneys at Law
Call for a Free Consultation 808-528-4000
contact us
contact Menu

State high court rules on falling rock case

A motor vehicle accident may have many causes in addition to a drunk, reckless or distracted driver. The Supreme Court of Hawaii recently ruled on a personal injury case involving a couple who were seriously injured when their car was crushed by a 160-ton rockfall. This was the first published opinion on highway rockfalls by the Court.

The victims were diving home from their jobs when a rockslide took place on Highway 11 in Ka'u in March 2007. A state-commissioned study in December 2004 classified the location as a Class A site or one with the greatest rockfall potential.

The victims were a speech pathologist and an education counselor who had to give up their employment because of their injuries. They moved to another location with a lower cost of living.

In a seven-day trial in late 2011, the state argued that the state was not legally liable for the accident. It said that site never rose to the top 10 of the 300 Class A sites in Hawaii, that funds for remediation went to more dangerous locations and that the state was not legally liable for the couple's injuries.

The trial court judge ruled in 2012 that the state has a duty of care to keep its highways in a condition that is reasonably safe for their intended use. This duty also governs the areas next to the highways and shoulders so they are reasonably safe from rockfalls.

However, the court judge dismissed the lawsuit and ruled the state's failure to provide a safe highway was not the responsible and unbroken cause of the rockfall which caused the injuries. Under Hawaii's Tort Liability Act, the plaintiffs did not have the right to a jury trial because the state was the only defendant.

The Supreme court reversed this decision and retuned the case for a new trial It ruled that the plaintiffs did not have to prove that the state's failure was the only cause of the rockfall and that it could have come from multiple causes.

Victims of a car accident caused by a reckless driver or, as in this case, possible failure to maintain a highway should seek legal assistance to assure that they can file a lawsuit against the responsible parties and appeal rulings. An experienced lawyer can help assure that their rights are advocated in court proceedings.

Source: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, "Supreme Court: Judge erred in rockfall injury case," By John Burnett, June 17, 2017

No Comments

Leave a comment
Comment Information

contact us free consultations

office location

Turbin Chu Heidt Attorneys at Law
737 Bishop Street
Suite 2730
Honolulu, HI 96813

Phone: 808-379-3586
Phone: 808-528-4000
Fax: 808-599-1984
Honolulu Law Office Map