Tolling the Hawaii Statute of Limitations

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On July 18, 2008 this blog discussed the Hawaii Statute of Limitations. One of the main areas of dispute among attorneys is the date on which a Statute of Limitations “accrues” or begins to run. In many cases, it begins to run on the day of the incident or the injury. However, in certain specific cases the Statute of Limitations is “tolled”. Examples include the following:

1. The “Infancy Toll”- H.R.S. 657-7, as interpreted by Hawaii courts, allows a tolling of the statute of limitation for individuals that are under the age of eighteen (infants). Gorospe v Matsui, 72 Hawaii 377, 381 (1991). This tolling has been referred to as the “infancy toll” and provides that the statute of limitations begins to run when the “infant” reaches eighteen rather than “after the cause of action accrued.” Id. See also Kahale v City and County of Honolulu, 104 Hawaii 341 (Hawaii 2004). The purpose is to give infants more time to bring their cause of action. Kahale v City and County of Honolulu, 104 Hawaii at 358.

2. The Discovery Rule – Hawaii Courts have “employed the ‘discovery rule’, holding that a cause of action accrues when the plaintiff discovers, or reasonably should have discovered, the elements giving rise to their claim.” Dunlea v Dappen, 83 Hawaii at 33.

For example, The Hawaii Supreme Court in Dunlea v Dappen extended the “discovery rule” to childhood sexual abuse cases. Dunlea v Dappen, 83 Hawaii 28, 34 (Hawaii, 1996). In Dunlea, the plaintiff was a 45 year old victim of rape by her father. Id. at 30-31. At age 17, plaintiff reported the rape, but it was not until she was age 44 that she realized the causal connection between her psychological injuries and the rape. Id. In Dunlea, the defendant brought a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint based on the expiration of the statute of limitations which was granted by the Circuit Court. In reviewing the Circuit Court’s decision to dismiss, the Hawaii Supreme Court held as follows:

[W]e agree that the issue of when Dunlea [plaintiff] discovered, or should have discovered, that her alleged injuries were caused by Dappen’s [defendant] alleged actions is a question of fact for the jury, we cannot hold as a matter of law that Dunlea [plaintiff] ascertained her alleged injuries and their causal link to Dappen’s [defendant] alleged actions more than two years before she asserted her claim, or that her failure to recognize her alleged injuries and the cause of those injuries sooner was unreasonable. Certainly, a reasonable jury could find that Dunlea [plaintiff] filed suit within two years of discovering her alleged injuries and the cause of those injuries, given their nature and circumstances. We therefore hold that the motion to dismiss was wrongly granted.

Id. at 36 (emphasis added).

The “discovery rule” has also been used to toll the statute of limitations in other circumstances which are unrelated to minors.