10 Critical Steps After a Hawaii Car Accident

Protect your rights and maximize your payout after a Hawaii car accident. We answer key questions and show you how to build a strong insurance claim.

Hawaii car accident

Despite the amazing safety features in today’s cars, the number of vehicle accidents on American roadways continues to climb. Auto accidents are responsible for injuries to more than 4.5 million people in the U.S. each year. ¹

Hawaii has its share of car accidents, with thousands of traffic crashes reported each year and more than 100 people killed. ²

It’s easy to think that accidents only happen to “the other guy” but the reality is that most drivers will be in three or four accidents in their lifetime. ³

Auto accidents are unexpected. Before you know what happened, you’re part of a crash scene waiting for help to arrive.

You can’t prevent every accident, but you can be ready to protect yourself when an accident occurs. Your successful insurance claim starts at the accident scene, if you know what to say and do, and just as importantly, what not to say or do.

What You Need to Know if You’ve Been in a Hawaii Car Accident

If you’ve been the victim of an auto accident in Hawaii, you’ll want to be fully compensated for your bodily injuries and property damage. Here are 10 important steps to help you build a successful car accident claim. We’ve also answered 30 of the most frequently asked questions about accident claims.

Step 1. Stop, Check for Injuries, Call 911

Hawaii stop call help

If you’ve been in a Hawaii car accident, stop as close to the accident scene as you can. Check to see if anyone is injured, and call 911.

What do I tell the 911 dispatcher?

Tell the 911 operator:

Your location: Emergency responders can get there faster if they know where to find you, so tell the dispatcher the street you’re on, which direction you were heading, the nearest intersecting roads or mile markers, or any other landmarks that will help describe your location.

Possible injuries: Tell the dispatcher if anyone is injured asking for medical help.

Scene description: Accidents scenes can be dangerous, with noisy activity and moving traffic around the crash area. Tell the dispatcher if you think anyone is in danger, or if there are hazards in the area like hanging power lines or leaking fuel.

Will the police come to the accident scene?

Dispatchers will usually send a police officer to an accident scenes with reported hazards, traffic problems, or where people are injured.

If police arrive to investigate the accident, the officer will file an official Motor Vehicle Accident Report. The report will contain important information such as drivers’ names and contact information, weather conditions, a diagram of the scene, and an opinion of fault.

The police accident report will be an important part of your property damage and personal injury claim. Make sure you get a copy of the report for your records.

What if someone is injured?

If anyone is injured or is asking for medical help, you must stay on the scene and give “reasonable assistance.” This means transporting or making arrangements, like calling an ambulance, to transport the injured person to a medical facility.

Drivers in Hawaii are required to show their driver’s license to anyone else involved in the crash. Drivers must also provide their name, address and vehicle registration.

Can I be sued for helping an injured person?

Under Hawaii ‘s “Good Samaritan” statute, if you help an injured person at the accident scene without expecting to be paid for that care, you cannot be held liable for your actions.

What if I’m injured?

Your injuries from a car accident may be obvious, like facial cuts or broken bones. But accident injuries aren’t always easy to see, even critical injuries like head trauma or internal bleeding. Some injury symptoms may not appear for hours or even days after the crash.

Never refuse medical treatment at the scene. Tell emergency responders about any symptoms you’re having, even if you think they are mild. Fear or shock can disguise injury symptoms. If paramedics want to transport you to the hospital, go.

If you are not taken directly to a hospital from the accident scene, make sure you are seen by a medical provider as soon as possible after the accident.

Refusing or delaying medical treatment after an accident can seriously undermine your insurance claim when the insurance company argues that your injuries were not caused by the accident.

What if no one is hurt, but the cars are damaged?

If you’re in an accident that only involves damage to vehicles or other property, you are still required to stop at the scene and make sure there are no injuries. When you’ve made sure that no one is hurt, move your vehicle so it won’t block traffic.

If you’ve hit a parked and unattended vehicle, stop and find the owner. You’ll need to provide your name, address and the name and address of the car owner if the car you’re driving isn’t yours.

If you can’t find the owner, leave a note in an obvious place on the car. The note should have your name, address, and an explanation of what happened.

Do I have to report the accident to police?

Immediately: If a vehicle accident causes anyone to be hurt or killed, or there is property damage of $3,000 or more, the driver (or a passenger, if the driver is unable) must immediately contact the local police.

Within 24 Hours: If a vehicle accident causes anyone to be hurt or killed, or there is property damage of $3,000 or more, in addition to notifying police at the time of the accident, within 24 hours the driver must report the accident in writing or in person to the chief of police.

Step 2. Start Gathering Evidence

Hawaii gather photo evidence

After you’ve been in a wreck, you’ll want to be compensated for your bodily injuries and property damages. To get a fair insurance settlement, you’ll need evidence that the other driver was negligent or did something wrong. Evidence gathered at the accident scene can be vital to your claim.

What are Damages?

Property damages include:

  • Car repair costs
  • Vehicle value, if it’s “totaled”
  • Rental costs while your car is repaired

Personal injury damages can include:

  • Medical, chiropractic, and therapy bills
  • Out-of-pocket expenses for medications and medical supplies
  • Costs of travel for treatment
  • Mental health services
  • Pain and suffering

Where do I start?

Start by getting information from the other driver:

  • Name and address
  • Vehicle owner name and address, if different from driver
  • Vehicle registration information
  • Driver’s license information
  • Insurance information

Passengers: Ask for passengers’ full names, birth dates, addresses, and contact information. Passengers are not required to disclose any information to you. If they refuse, you can make notes for yourself about the number and approximate ages of passengers, and a description of the appearance, statements, and behaviors you saw and heard.

Vehicles: Write down the make, model, year, license plate number, expiration date, and vehicle identification number (VIN) for each vehicle involved in the accident. The VIN can usually be found on the dashboard in the left corner at the bottom where the dashboard and windshield meet, on the driver’s insurance card, or inside the door jamb of the driver’s side door. Get permission before entering a car to look for the VIN.

Witnesses: Witnesses are not legally required to talk to you, but you can try to speak with potential witnesses long enough to find out if they saw anything that might help your claim. If you have a cooperative witness, ask for their name, address, phone numbers, e-mail address, and if they will write a statement of what they observed. Ask the witness sign and date any written statement.

Diagrams: Make a drawing of the accident scene to show the location of the cars, and the direction each car was heading. Indicate road conditions like ice or construction zones, and add notes about the weather, visibility, and anything else that could have contributed to the accident.

While it’s fresh in your mind, note the time of day, approximate speed of the cars, and what traffic was like when the accident occurred.

Are photographs or video important?

Yes. Taking photographs or videos with your cell phone, camera or any other device will be tremendously helpful to your claim. Walk around the crash area, taking as many pictures and videos as you can from different angles.

Photographs and videos can show important details of the vehicles, the accident scene, and the nearby area. Sometimes, pictures or video can help show how the drivers and passengers were acting, what they were saying, apparent intoxication, and other important factors about the people at the scene.

Photos and videos are persuasive evidence that makes it harder for people to change their story later.

We’ve made it easier for you, with a free Car Accident Information Form. Keep a copy of the form and a pen in your car along with your proof of insurance. You’ll always be ready to collect important information you need from an accident scene.

Step 3. Notify Your Insurance Company

Hawaii accident call insurance

What is a Cooperation Clause?

Most auto policies have a Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation clause. The clause means you agree to tell your insurance company any time you are in an accident, and you also agree to cooperate with your insurance company’s investigation of the accident.

The Cooperation clause will look something like this:

“Insured (you) agrees to notify the insurer (your insurance company) of any accidents and thereafter comply with all information, assistance, and cooperation which the insurer reasonably requests, and agrees that in the event of a claim the insurer and the insured will do nothing that shall prejudice the insurer’s position…”

Do I have to call my insurance company if it wasn’t my fault?

Yes. Your insurance policy is a contract. You’re obligated under your auto policy to promptly report any accident, even if the accident wasn’t your fault or no one seems to be hurt.

Your insurance company wants to hear your side of the story. By quickly notifying your insurance company, and cooperating with their investigation, you give the insurer the best opportunity to guard your interests.

Reporting the accident, even a fender-bender, will help protect you later if the other driver decides to blame you for the crash, or starts to complain of injuries.

If the anyone from the other car hires an attorney, you can be sure their attorney will notify your insurance company, putting you and the insurance company in a tough spot if you hadn’t already reported the accident.

Failing to notify your insurance company can cause the company to raise your rates, decline to renew your policy, or even cancel your auto insurance policy.

Here’s a sample Notice of Occurrence Form with examples of accident details to tell your insurance company.

Can I use an app to report the accident?

Yes. There are apps for Apple and Android devices to make reporting your Hawaii car accident fast and easy. Many reporting apps can help you gather vital information and get the claims process started.

Apps can help you:

  • Gather driver’s license, registration, and insurance information
  • Collect witness names and contact information
  • Create diagrams of the accident scene
  • Take photos and video
  • Identify the GPS location of the scene
  • Notify your insurance company

Here are a few of the free accident reporting apps. Check with your insurance company to see if they offer a similar application.

Google Accident Report
Allstate Mobile
State Farm

Step 4. Understanding Hawaii No-Fault Insurance

Hawaii no-fault insurance

How does Hawaii’s no-fault insurance work?

Hawaii is a considered a “no-fault state,” which means your auto insurance company will pay the bills for your injuries and your passengers’ injuries up to the Personal Injury Protection benefits (“PIP”) limit. You cannot sue or be sued  for bodily injury damages unless there are serious injuries.

Can I seek compensation from the other driver?

Hawaii no-fault rules only apply to bodily injuries, not vehicles or property. Compensation for your property damage is the responsibility of the at-fault driver.

There are exceptions to Hawaii ‘s no-fault insurance rules. In Hawaii you can pursue a personal injury claim against the at-fault driver under any of the following conditions:

  • The no-fault insurance has already paid out more than $5,000 for your medical bills
  • Your bodily injury expenses exceed the limits of available PIP coverage
  • Your injuries include permanent and serious disfigurement or the permanent loss of use of a body part.

Step 5. Hawaii Mandatory Car Insurance

Hawaii auto insurance

What are Hawaii’s mandatory insurance requirements?

Liability insurance covers injuries or damage to other people or property if you cause an accident. Vehicles registered in Hawaii must be insured for bodily injury coverage no less than $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident, as well as $10,000 per accident for property damage.

For more information on Hawaii car insurance requirements visit the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Insurance page.

Step 6. Hawaii’s Comparative Negligence Law

Hawaii comparative negligence

How does the comparative negligence law work?

Hawaii follows the Contributory Negligence rule, meaning you can pursue an accident claim against the other driver, even if you are partially to blame (liable) for the accident, so long as you are not more to blame for the accident than the other driver.

If you are 51% or more liable for the accident, you won’t be able to recover any damages from the other driver. If your liability is 50% or less, you can still receive a settlement, but the amount will be adjusted according to your share of blame for the accident.

Here’s an example of how comparative negligence laws can affect a settlement:

Lou was driving west on 40th Street to pick up his daughter from school. He was running late and driving well over the speed limit.

At the same time, Lucy was driving northbound on Renee Drive, heading home from work. As she approached the intersection of 40th and Renee, she sped up to make it through the intersection before the yellow traffic light turned red.

Unfortunately, the light turned red as Lucy entered the intersection. She collided with Lou’s car, causing serious injuries to Lou.

Lou was seeking $100,000 to cover his medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Lucy’s insurance company refused to pay more than $20,000, so Lou filed a lawsuit against Lucy.

During trial, the evidence showed Lucy failed to stop at the red light, so she was legally responsible for causing the accident. But she wasn’t the only one liable for the crash. The jury also learned that Lou was ticketed at the accident scene for speeding.

The jury determined that Lucy was 60% to blame for the accident, for running the red light. The jury also determined that Lou was 40% to blame for the accident because he was speeding.

While the jury agreed that Lou’s personal injury claim was worth $100,000, under Hawaii’s contributory negligence rules, Lou was only awarded $60,000 (60%) of his injury claim.

If the jury had determined that Lou was 51% or more at fault, he wouldn’t be entitled to any money for his personal injury claim.

Step 7. Cooperate with Police

Hawaii police at accident

What is the role of law enforcement at the scene?

Police are usually dispatched to accidents when there are injuries, traffic problems, or hazards at the accident location. After securing the scene, the officer will investigate to determine how the accident occurred and who was at fault.

Do I have to listen to the police?

Yes. The police have a job to do. When a police officer asks you to wait or otherwise gives you instructions, you must cooperate.

Don’t argue with the police. You may try to tell the officer your side of the story, but they are not required to listen to you. Aggressive remarks like “I know my rights. Give me your badge number!” not only interfere with the accident investigation, but they can also lead to a traffic ticket, or possibly your arrest.

Can I refuse a traffic citation?

No. If the investigating officer decides you violated Hawaii traffic laws, you may be issued a traffic citation. You can try convincing the officer not to give you a ticket, but once the citation is issued, you should accept it.

Accepting a traffic ticket is not an admission of guilt. If you want to challenge the citation, do it in court, not at the accident scene.

Step 8. Deciding to Hire an Attorney

Hawaii hire attorney self represent

Some insurance claims can be settled without an attorney. Other claims need an experienced injury attorney to persuade the insurance company to pay what you deserve for your damages.

Can I represent myself?

Before deciding to represent yourself in a bodily injury claim, consider the type of injuries you suffered in the accident:

“Soft tissue” injuries include scrapes and bruises, strains and sprains, and similarly minor injuries. Soft tissue injury claims are uncomplicated and generally consist of medical, chiropractic, or physical therapy bills, some lost wages, and minimal pain and suffering.

Soft tissue injuries don’t usually need a lot of expensive medical tests and are typically settled without expert medical testimony, pretrial legal procedures, or filing a lawsuit.

“Hard” injuries are much more serious and can include multiple fractures, severe lacerations, head trauma, amputations, and similar critical injuries. Hard injury claims are complicated, requiring the insurance company to pay out significantly more money for an appropriate settlement.

There’s just too much at stake for you to represent yourself in a severe injury claim.

Persuading the insurance company to pay adequate compensation when you’ve suffered hard injuries usually involves expert medical testimony, comprehensive discovery, subpoenas, depositions, the threat of litigation, and more.

When you’ve been seriously injured in an accident, you have limited power to handle insurance negotiations and legal procedures on your own. Without legal representation, once the insurance company makes their “final” offer, you probably won’t have the knowledge or energy to fight them. Insurance companies count on that and regularly offer much less settlement money to claimants without an attorney.

You deserve to be paid the full value of your injury claim. Experienced personal injury attorneys have the skills, knowledge and legal tools needed to convince the insurance company to fairly compensate you for your injuries and suffering.

How much do attorneys charge?

Your first meeting with a personal injury attorney is usually free. You can choose to consult with more than one attorney before choosing the attorney who will represent you.

If you’ve been seriously injured, gather your important paperwork like medical records, accident reports, witness statements and other documents related to the accident. Bring your documents to the initial consultation with your prospective attorney.

After reviewing your records, the attorney will discuss your claim’s value, how long it might take to settle, and if you’ll need to file a lawsuit.

Personal injury attorneys ordinarily charge a contingency fee, meaning that your attorney’s fees will be paid out of your insurance settlement or court award. Contingency fees can range from around 25% up to a maximum of about 40% of the gross settlement amount or court verdict.

If your attorney fails to settle your claim or loses your court case, you won’t owe any fees.

Step 9. Hawaii Small Claims Court

Hawaii small claims court

Hawaii small claims courts are a division of the local district courts.

How much can I sue for in Hawaii Small Claims Courts?

You may file a lawsuit seeking up to $5,000 in Hawaii small claims courts.

When should I file a small claims court lawsuit?

Because Hawaii is a no-fault insurance state, personal injury claims up to $5,000 must be filed under your PIP coverage with your insurance company.

However, property damage claims are an exception to the Hawaii no-fault insurance requirement. If you have property damage caused by a negligent driver, filing a small claims lawsuit may be your best option in any of these circumstances:

  • The negligent driver was uninsured or underinsured
  • The negligent driver’s insurance company denies your claim
  • The driver’s insurance company’s offer doesn’t cover your property damage
  • An attorney won’t accept your case for a contingency fee

Do I sue the driver or the insurance company?

You must file your small claims lawsuit against the driver who caused the accident, not the driver’s insurance company.

Where can I learn more about Hawaii small claims court?

For more information visit the Hawaii Judiciary’s Guide to Small Claims Court.

How can I find the small claims court nearest me?

Go here to locate your nearest Hawaii Small Claims Court.

Step 10. Be Careful of Hawaii’s Statute of Limitations

Hawaii statute limitations

A statute of limitations is the legal time period for an accident victim to either settle their insurance claim or file a lawsuit.

If you miss the statute of limitations deadline, you will lose your legal right to pursue your claim with the negligent driver or the driver’s insurance company.

What is the Statute of Limitations period in Hawaii?

Hawaii has a two-year statute of limitations for property damage and personal injury claims. The statute starts to “run” on the accident date.

This means you have two years from the date of the car accident to settle your claim or file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

What if the insurance company isn’t cooperating?

Be careful of the statute of limitations deadline if your negotiations with the claims adjuster are going slowly. No matter what the adjuster says, the insurance company is under no legal obligation to settle your claim before the deadline expires.

They know that if you don’t stop the statutory clock from running out by filing a lawsuit against the at-fault driver, there’s nothing you can do to make the insurance company pay, no matter how badly you’re hurt.

What if time is running out and my claim hasn’t settled?

Don’t forfeit your claim. Unless you have a signed settlement agreement, don’t wait until the last day to preserve your claim by filing a lawsuit. Remember, the insurance company can’t legally promise you an “extension” on the statute of limitations.

If you fail to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver within two years of the car accident date, you can’t do it later by blaming the insurance company.

Make sure you know the statute of limitations deadline for your accident. Schedule reminder alerts on your phone, and mark the date on your calendar, or anywhere else that will remind you to take action before the deadline runs out. Don’t wait until the last day to protect your legal rights.

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>