Comparative Negligence

Jury Instruction On Effects Of Comparative Negligence Statute Required

Products Liability Cases In Hawaii

HRS § 663-31(d) provides “The court shall instruct the jury regarding the law of comparative negligence where appropriate.” The Hawaii appellate courts have found that this includes a jury instruction explaining to the jury the practical effect of the comparative negligence statute – especially for a plaintiff found more than 50% negligent.

In Kaeo v. Davis, 68 Haw. 447, 719 P.2d 387 (1986), the Supreme Court found that the trial court erred when it failed to inform the jury of the possible legal effect of a verdict apportioning negligence among the plaintiff and joint tortfeasors. The Hawaii Supreme Court clearly indicated that it adopted the school of thought regarding comparative negligence which requires the jury to be fully informed of the legal effect of finding percentages of negligence in order that the jury might be better able to fulfill its fact finding function. Kaeo at page 460, 719 P.2d at 395-396.

This position of the Hawaii Courts has been recently reaffirmed in the case of Rapoza v. Parnell, 83 Haw. 78, 924 P.2d 572 (Haw. App. 1996). In that case, the Court reversed a jury’s decision where the Plaintiff had requested an instruction regarding the law of comparative negligence and the trial court had refused such an instruction. The Rapoza court found once again that it was reversible error to refuse a proposed jury instruction regarding the practical effect of the comparative negligence statute.