If anyone suffers an injury or sickness caused by a recalled food, they may be able to file a Washington, D.C. product liability claim to recover compensation. Recalls generally involve foods contaminated by various pathogens, such as E. coli or Salmonella. Food recalls can also occur due to a foreign object being present in the food. The Food and Drug Administration monitors the safety of most food products, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service is responsible for ensuring the safety of meat, poultry, and egg products.

A recall does not automatically establish that a defendant is liable, but it may serve as evidence in a product liability case. A court may not always allow such evidence, but even if it does, the plaintiff must still prove that the specific food that the plaintiff consumed was defective and that the defect caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Cases like this may require the testimony of an expert who can explain the link between the defect and the plaintiff’s symptoms and injuries. If there is evidence of a recall, that may help prove that the food the plaintiff purchase was contaminated. Testing may also be done in some situations to determine if the food was actually affected. Testing may also be done on the plaintiff to show whether certain pathogens were present in the plaintiff’s body.

Over 760,000 Pounds of Hot Pockets Recalled

The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated the headlines for the past year, and has affected Washington, D.C. residents just as it has affected the rest of the nation. Many Washington, D.C. residents have fallen ill or even died from COVID-19, and many families are mourning loved ones but are unable to gather in-person to celebrate their lives. But amidst all this, personal injury accidents are still occurring in Washington, D.C. and across the nation—some totally separate from COVID-19 and some as a result. Some of these accidents, occurring in overcrowded and understaffed hospitals, raise questions about hospitals’ legal duty to protect patients.

For example, take a recent accident that made national headlines. According to the New York Times, an 82-year-old man was being treated for COVID-19 at a hospital when he was bludgeoned to death with an oxygen tank by his roommate at the hospital, another COVID-19 patient. The men were sharing a two-person room, and the victim began to pray one morning, angering his 37-year-old roommate, who then struck him with an oxygen tank. He was pronounced dead the next morning. The roommate was arrested and charged with murder and elder abuse. Bail was set at $1 million.

This is not the first time someone has been killed in a hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospitals all across the country are overwhelmed, overcrowded, and understaffed, potentially setting the scene for incidents such as this. For example, the New York Times reports that in April of 2020, an 86-year-old woman died at a hospital when another patient shoved her for breaking social distancing guidelines.

Many Washington, D.C. residents are struggling financially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people lost their jobs, or have had their hours significantly cut, and are struggling to pay rent or buy groceries. This makes Washington, D.C. accidents that injure people and cause financial strain even more tragic, because they can cause significant damage to already struggling individuals and families. And many of these accidents are unexpected—happening out of nowhere—illustrating how someone’s life can change drastically in just one moment.

For example, consider a recent accident affecting a food truck. According to a local news article, the accident occurred around 9 PM one Saturday evening when a car suddenly approached the pizza stand at high speed and crashed into it. The owner, who was at the time packing a pizza to the side of the van, told officials he saw his stepson get thrown several feet from the impact of the collision. While the owner was not himself injured, his stepson unfortunately was. He suffered severe injuries and had to be rushed to the emergency room in serious condition. A second person was also badly hurt in the crash.

While injuries like this are already tragic on their own, this one is particularly tragic due to the family’s struggles during the pandemic. The owner said he and his family lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and poured all of their savings into setting up this pizza stand. Giving an interview to the local news, the owner said “I’m so sad because I lost everything. I worked so hard, so many years to save my money,” to try and run his own business, “but now it’s gone.” Community members are attempting to raise money to buy him a new trailer and repair the pizza oven, but the situation is still frustrating and upsetting for the family.

In the tragic event of the untimely death of a loved one in Washington, D.C., family members may be able to hold wrongful parties responsible through the filing of a wrongful death claim. Family members may be able to receive monetary compensation through a successful claim. Under the D.C. Code § 16-2701, a wrongful death is a death caused by the “wrongful act, neglect, or default of a person or corporation” that would have allowed the person to recover if death did not ensure.

The Wrongful Death Act is intended to provide a means for close relatives of the deceased to recover compensation from the wrongful actor because the relatives would have expected assistance from the deceased if he had survived. Beneficiaries can recover for losses due to the financial support the deceased would have likely provided if he had survived and for losses for the value of lost services such as education and advice support the deceased would have likely provided to the family members. Damages include reasonable expenses for the deceased’s “last illness” and the burial.

A wrongful death claim in Washington, D.C. must be filed by the estate’s personal representative on behalf of the deceased’s spouse or domestic partner. If no spouse or domestic partner exists, the next of kin can file suit, including children, parents, or siblings. A wrongful death claim is not derived from the deceased’s estate, but rather focuses on the losses suffered by family members. For that reason, a jury can allocate damages unequally among the beneficiaries in the suit. Damages are determined according to the unique damages suffered by the next of kin. Under Washington, D.C. law, a claim under D.C.’s Survival Act is a separate claim. A claim under the Survival Act allows recovery arising from personal injury to the decedent and which can be filed by the decedent’s representative. Generally, a wrongful death claim must be filed within two years of the death of the deceased.

When someone is killed in an accident, the law allows their family or estate to file a Washington, D.C. wrongful death lawsuit against the individual who caused their death—such as a negligent driver in a car crash. If successful, these lawsuits can result in damages to cover medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, and, importantly, pain and suffering experienced by the deceased before their death. Sometimes, there are questions about what evidence can be introduced to prove pain and suffering in this case.

For example, take a recent state appellate case. The facts of the case are undeniably tragic: a couple was driving along the highway when the defendant, in a pickup truck, crossed the median and hit them. The couple, husband and wife, both died as a result of the collision. Their three-year-old daughter, who was also in the vehicle, survived.

The deceased wife’s mother filed suit against the defendant. At trial, the jury awarded her $3 million. The defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by admitting irrelevant evidence at trial. At trial, the issue to be decided was the deceased wife’s conscious pain and suffering. The plaintiffs presented evidence that she was pregnant at the time of the collision. When the collision happened, she was on the telephone with her mother, telling her about the appointment confirming her pregnancy. The mother, the plaintiff in this case, then heard her daughter scream, “oh my god, look at that,” and then heard her scream her husband’s name, followed by the crash itself. The court held that evidence regarding her state of mind—including the fact that she was pregnant—had relevance to her fright, shock, and mental suffering before the collision.

Although Washington, D.C. landlords are responsible for maintaining their properties, D.C. law generally allows landlords to relieve themselves of liability for negligence through an agreement between the landlord and the tenant. If the parties clearly agreed to release liability, the court will generally uphold the agreement. However, Washington, D.C. courts have made it clear that exculpatory clauses in agreements are only construed to limit liability for negligence if the language in the lease clarifies that it was the intended effect. However, an agreement will not be enforced in cases of gross negligence, willful acts, or fraud. In addition, the agreement must apply and be intended to apply to the premises in question.

Under Washington, D.C. law, a landlord who has exclusive control of a building in which there are leased premises must exercise reasonable and ordinary care in managing that portion of the premises under the landlord’s exclusive control (such as a common hallway or bathroom). In the portions under the landlord’s exclusive control, the landlord is generally still liable for injuries because of a defective condition that the landlord fails to address.

In a recent case before one state appeals court, the court considered whether the landlord could be relieved of liability due to an exculpatory clause contained in the lease. The plaintiff in the case hit his head on a beam in the doorway, causing him to fall down the stairs. The plaintiff was the tenant in a commercial lease with the building owner. The plaintiff claimed that his fall was caused by the inherently dangerous condition of the staircase because the location of the beam was in violation of numerous building codes. In the lease, there was an exculpatory clause that stated that the lessor was not liable for personal injury to the lessee and others “whether the said injury . . . results from conditions arising upon the Premises or upon other portions of the Building, or from other sources or places.” The plaintiff filed a claim against the lessor for negligence and premises liability.

A product recall is not required for a viable Washington, D.C. product liability claim, just as a product recall does not automatically mean that a consumer has a viable Washington, D.C. product liability claim. However, if a product is recalled, it is a sign that a product is not safe. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) investigates injuries associated with consumer products. The CPSC can issue a voluntary recall notice or a mandatory recall notice, depending on the nature of the defect.

Although a consumer of a recalled product may be able to have the product refunded or replaced pursuant to a recall, the consumer must have been injured by the defective product in order to file a product liability claim. A plaintiff in a product liability case in Washington, D.C. must establish that the defendant manufacturer, distributor, or retailer is liable for the injuries caused by the defendant’s defective product. In a strict liability claim, this generally means proving that the seller was engaged in the business of selling the defective product, that the seller expected the product to reach the consumer, that the product was defective and unreasonably dangerous when it was sold, that the product was not substantially changed when it reached the consumer, and that the defect in the product caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

Crockpots Recalled After Burn Injuries

One company is recalling almost a million crockpots sold by various retailers after consumers reported burns after the lids on the crockpots blew off. According to one news source, around 100 consumers were burned after the lids blew off the crockpots while they were in use, spewing hot food and liquid. The crockpots were able to pressurize even though the lid was not fully locked, causing the lid to blow off while it was being used. There were 119 reports of lids detaching, causing a reported 99 injuries. Some consumers suffered serious injuries, including third-degree burns.

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As a major city and the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. has many different vehicles within it at a given time. From cars to trucks, to motorcycles, school buses, bicycles, and more, there is no shortage of vehicles and forms of transportation for individuals to get around the city. But tragically, each of these forms of transportation presents the risk of a Washington, D.C. motor vehicle accident. While accidents can sometimes be no big deal, they more often cause serious injury or even death.

One vehicle that may be seen around Washington, D.C., especially during times of celebration, is limousines. But limousines can be prone to some scary and fatal accidents. Recently, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) published findings regarding a serious 2018 crash. According to the NTSB, the crash occurred on October 6, 2018, around 1:55 PM. A stretch limousine operated by a limousine and chauffeur service was traveling south, driven by a 53-year-old man. Seventeen passengers were in the limousine. Unfortunately, while traveling down a hill, the brakes of the limousine failed, and the vehicle’s speed increased to over 100 miles an hour. To avoid a car stopped at an intersection ahead of them, the driver steered the vehicle away and ended up running a stop sign and entering a driveway of a restaurant parking lot. At this point, it hit an unoccupied 2015 Toyota SUV parked in a grassy field adjacent to the driveway. The impact of the crash pushed the SUV forward, striking and killing two pedestrians. But the limousine did not stop—it continued across the edge of the driveway and into a ravine, where it struck an embankment and several trees. All 18 people in the limousine were tragically killed.

The NTSB investigated this tragic crash, attempting to determine the probable cause. It ultimately concluded that the limousine and chauffeur service egregiously disregarded passengers’ safety and was reckless by dispatching a stretch limousine with an out-of-service order for a passenger charter trip. As it turns out, the company knew of the issues with the brake system but sent the vehicle out anyway. This case is an example of one set of facts that may lead to a Washington, D.C. negligence lawsuit. The deceased victims’ families may be able to file a wrongful death suit against the negligent limousine and chauffeur service. If successful, a personal injury lawsuit may be able to help the family recover for their medical bills, funeral and burial costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

In this blog, we often write about a specific type of Washington, D.C. personal injury lawsuit: premise’s liability claims. The premise’s liability doctrine is used to hold property or business owners responsible for accidents on their property. For example, grocery stores that fail to warn customers of slippery floors can be held liable, or homeowners who invite visitors over who are injured on faulty stairs. This is an important doctrine; however, it is not without limits. In some cases, an individual might sign a waiver of liability, releasing a property or business owner from liability if they are injured.

For example, take a recent state appellate court case. The court’s written opinion indicates that in April of 2017, the plaintiff decided to join a gym. In executing her membership agreement, she signed a form that states, in part, “I understand and voluntarily accept full responsibility … for the risk of injury or loss arising out of or related to my use … of the facilities,” and “I further agree that [the defendant] … will not be liable for any injury … resulting from the negligent conduct or omission of [the defendant].” In September of that year, the plaintiff visited the gym and exercised on a treadmill. After her workout, she walked towards a trash bin to dispose of the towel she used to wipe down the equipment, but she tripped and fell on an uneven walkway and broke her wrist.

The plaintiff brought a premises liability claim against the defendant, her gym, alleging that they were negligent in maintaining the facility. The defendant moved for summary judgment, which the court granted due to the waiver agreement the plaintiff signed. The plaintiff appealed. On appeal, she argued that the trial court erred in enforcing the waiver because her injury was not connected to actually exercising or using the gym, but happened as she was walking. The court disagreed, noting that the plaintiff fell right after working out, while walking to throw away the towel she had used to clean the treadmill. For the court, the plaintiff’s injury was sufficiently connected to her use of the gym and was covered by the waiver of liability that the plaintiff signed. As such, her lawsuit against the gym could not move forward, and summary judgment was granted in favor of the defendant.

If an individual is injured in the District of Columbia and the local government may be at fault, a plaintiff will likely have to deal with the issue of governmental immunity. Under Washington, D.C. law, the municipal government may be immune from a civil lawsuit depending on the nature of the act. In Washington, D.C., the local government and its employees and agents are immune from suit depending on whether the act is discretionary or ministerial. The government is immune based upon its discretionary actions, but not immune from suit based upon its ministerial actions. Generally, a discretionary act is one that involved deliberation, decision, and judgment. A ministerial act is generally confined to following orders or performing a duty in which the employee has little choice. Whether an action is discretionary or ministerial often depends on the specific facts and circumstances of the case.

Local government employees also generally are protected under governmental immunity for their actions. They generally are protected as long as they are acting within their official capacity and within the scope of their employment and if they do not act with gross negligence. An individual may also act as an agent of a government entity, depending on the facts of the case.

Court Dismisses Medical Malpractice Suit Against University Based on Immunity

In a recent case before one state appeals court, that court considered whether a university was entitled to immunity after a doctor was sued at an affiliated hospital. In that case, the patient sought treatment from the doctor at his office at the hospital. The university provided healthcare services at that teaching hospital. The doctor was an employee of the university and made an agreement to provide care to patients at the hospital. The patient claimed that the doctor failed to prescribe anti-coagulants to the patient, which resulted in disabilities. The patient claimed that the hospital and the university were liable for the doctor’s actions as an agent of the university.

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