Are Hawaii Juries Fair?

Are Hawaii Juries Fair?

This is the question that our clients ask us when they are trying to decide whether to accept a settlement offer or take their case to a jury trial.  

The first thing to keep in mind is that most people on a jury have not been injured in an accident before.  Most of them will not understand how much an auto accident injury can disrupt one’s life.  They will have a hard time understanding how upsetting and stressful an auto accident can be.  They will not understand how long the court process is and what you have been through with your physical injury as well as the mental and emotional pain that you may experience due to your injuries and the long claims process.  

The next thing to keep in mind is that the general public is not in favor of injury lawsuits.  For decades the media has tried convinced the public that people who claim they have been injured in car accidents are probably just faking it.  For years, there have been jokes about the lady who sued McDonald’s because she was burned by their hot coffee.  There are countless movies and television shows which poke fun at people who are faking injuries to get money.  There are constant media reports pointing out people who intentionally fall in stores or stop their car quickly in order to cause an accident and fake an injury.  

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to juries, and people in general, is that most people act out of self-preservation.  By this, we mean that most people will make decisions in a way to benefits themselves.  In the case of a jury trial, most jury members think that injury lawsuits are the reason why their insurance premiums are high.  This false assumption will often lead juries to not award large jury awards to people who are injured in accidents.  Of course, juries don’t understand that their insurance premiums are high due to the insane amounts of money that insurance companies spend on advertising and the large amounts of money that they spend on insurance adjustors and lawyers to try to avoid paying people what they owe them for their injuries.

Another potential problem with juries in Hawaii is that many people serving on juries are losing money by being there because they aren’t able to go to work.  Yes, there are some employers that allow their employees to serve on juries and not lose pay.  Unfortunately, there are many self- employed people who own their own businesses who are losing a lot of money by serving on a jury.  Juries do receive a very small stipend, but it is nothing compared to how much they are losing by not being able to work.  Because many jurors are not happy due to losing income, they aren’t usually in the mood to award large jury awards.  

These are some of the issues that we discuss with clients when they ask if juries are fair.  It’s not that we want to be negative or encourage them not to take their case to a jury trial, but we just want them to know some of the obstacles that they are going up against.  It’s important for people to step back and realize that the whole world is not on their side and ready to award them large jury awards.  Each member of a jury walks into the room with their own biases and personalities which can either help or hurt you in your injury lawsuit.  Of course, we do everything we can to overcome a jury’s biases and concerns in order to obtain the best possible jury award for our clients.

One of the complicated parts of an injury case in Hawaii are medical liens. Most of us have health insurance and we think that our health insurance company simply pays the bills they receive and will never ask to be reimbursed for bills that they’ve paid. This assumption is usually true; however, one exception is when you’ve been involved in an auto accident in Hawaii. The medical insurance companies in Hawaii such as HMSA, Kaiser, and HMAA, have clauses in their insurance contracts which state that if you’ve been injured in an accident and you receive compensation for those injuries, then you have to pay them back for the bills that they’ve paid. The initial reaction by most people is that this isn’t right. You pay your health insurance premiums and expect your insurance company to pay the bills and not ask to be reimbursed when you settle your injury case. We can also look at it from the medical insurance company’s point of view: they lost money because of the bad driver so they think they have the right to be compensated for their losses.

These health insurance companies hire collection companies to try to get the money back that they’ve spent on someone’s injuries due to an accident. The agents for the collection companies receive commissions based on how much they get back for the health insurance companies. One of the techniques of the collections companies is to do anything they can to get the information about the car insurance companies involved in the case. Their main goal is to place a lien on the case with the car insurance companies. Once a lien is placed on the case, then the car insurance adjusters won’t settle the case unless the injured person agrees to have them take out the medical lien amount from their settlement proceeds and pay the collection company the amount they’ve requested.

We do everything that we can to get the collection companies to discount the amounts that they’re requesting. If the collection company has placed the car insurance company on notice of their lien, then it is very difficult to get them to reduce their lien. This is because they know that they are in a position of power. They know that the case can’t be settled until their lien is resolved. In these situations, they will usually only reduce their lien by about 10 percent at the most. If the collection company hasn’t placed the car insurance company on notice, then we are in a much better position to get them to reduce their lien amount. This is because they know that we’re the ones in the position of power. When we settle the case the client will usually request that we hold funds from the settlement in our client trust account to resolve the outstanding liens. We can then take as much time as we need to get the collection company to reduce their lien. In these situations, we can usually get them to reduce their lien by about one third.

This is an area of law that is constantly changing. There was a recent Hawaii Supreme Court decision which greatly limited the ability of the health insurance companies to get compensation for the medical bills that they paid. Whether the health insurance plan is an ERISA plan or not makes a big difference in how much of the medical bills have to be paid back.

Medical liens from Med-Quest (Department of Health Services) are supported by statute; but, the good thing about Quest liens is that they are required to be reduced by one third. Quest liens are known as super liens because statutory law requires that they are paid back.

Medical liens from Medicaid, Medicare, and Tricare are also considered to be super liens because federal law requires that they are paid.

Each of these different health insurance companies and government agencies has different processes and procedures for requesting reductions and paying back liens.

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