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For many residents and guests, Washington, D.C. is known as a walkable city. At the same time, the District gets its fair share of winter weather. Thus, the winter months always bring about an increase in the number of Washington, D.C. slip-and-fall accidents due to snowy and icy conditions.

Generally, Washington, D.C. landowners (including the government) have a duty to ensure that their property is safe for visitors. The case of snow and ice is no exception, and landowners should take the necessary actions to clear their property of hazardous snow and ice. Of course, property owners cannot be responsible for immediately clearing snow as it falls, so the law provides a 24-hour grace period. However, after 24 hours, a landowner can be liable for injuries that occur due to snowy or icy conditions on their property.

Weather-related slip-and-fall accidents frequently raise a number of unique issues beyond those that typically arise in a premises liability case. A recent case illustrates one court’s distinction between the “natural” and “unnatural” accumulation of snow. While Washington, D.C, premises liability law does not draw this same distinction, the local law is similar in that courts focus on the landowner’s knowledge of the hazard and the appropriateness of their actions in remedying the hazardous conditions.

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As a general rule, Washington, D.C. landowners owe a duty of care to those whom they allow onto their property, and when someone is injured on another’s property they may be able to pursue a claim for compensation through a Washington, D.C. premises liability lawsuit. However, landowners are not always responsible for a visitor’s injuries. Thus, a common question that comes up in Washington, D.C. premises liability cases is whether a landowner can be liable for injuries caused by criminal acts of a third-party.

These cases are more common than most people think. For example, violent criminal acts that occur in Washington, D.C. apartment complexes, schools, playgrounds, basketball courts, or parking lots may all be preventable. However, determining when the landowner can be held liable for the injuries caused as a result of such criminal conduct can be tricky. A recent state appellate opinion discusses how courts view premises liability claims based on a third-party’s criminal conduct.

The Facts

In its opinion, the court explained that the plaintiff had just finished picking up a few items at the grocery store and was walking to her car when she was approached by a man who shot and killed her. The estate of the plaintiff filed a wrongful death claim against the owner of the grocery store, arguing that the owner had a duty to protect customers from the criminal acts of third parties.

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Premises liability is a legal concept that imposes a duty on landowners to keep their property safe for guests. These cases are often referred to as slip-and-fall cases. Often, Washington, D.C. slip-and-fall accidents occur at a business or while on government-owned property. However, that is not always the case.

It is not uncommon, however, for someone to be injured while visiting a loved one’s home. Of course, the law does not prevent a person from bringing a claim against a family member. And it is important to remember that homeowner’s insurance will generally cover personal injury claims made against a homeowner. Thus, even if a loved one’s negligence causes a Washington, D.C. slip-and-fall accident in failing to ensure their property is safe, the homeowner will not typically be the one required to pay for any damages suffered by the accident victim.

A recent case illustrates a situation in which an injury victim may choose to pursue a claim against a loved one based on injuries sustained on the loved one’s property.

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One of the first major decisions that a Washington, D.C. personal injury victim must come to is where to file their case. A court can only hear a lawsuit if it has jurisdiction to do so. There are two types of jurisdiction, personal and subject-matter. Subject-matter jurisdiction refers to the court’s ability to hear the specific kind of claim being brought by the plaintiff. Personal jurisdiction refers to whether a court has the power to issue a binding declaration against a party.

Establishing jurisdiction over a plaintiff is generally easy, because the plaintiff consents to jurisdiction by filing a claim with the court. However, determining which courts have jurisdiction over a defendant can be tricky. In Washington, D.C., the general rule is that a court has jurisdiction over a party if the party resides or does business in that state. Thus, if a Washington, D.C. resident causes an accident in Delaware that injures a Maryland plaintiff, the plaintiff could file the claim in Washington, D.C. because that is where the defendant resides.

Other Ways to Establish a Court’s Jurisdiction

Often, filing a claim where the defendant resides is not preferable for a plaintiff. It may be that the law in the state where the defendant lives is unfavorable to the plaintiff’s claim or that the plaintiff wants to litigate the case close to their home. In any event, a plaintiff may be able to file a lawsuit in another state if they can establish that the state has jurisdiction.

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Most Washington, D.C. personal injury cases are based on the theory of negligence. In Washington, D.C., there are two primary defenses to personal injury lawsuits: contributory negligence and assumption of the risk. As we have discussed at length in other posts, contributory negligence refers to an injury victim’s shared responsibility in bringing about their own injuries. Under Washington, D.C. personal injury law, if a plaintiff is contributorily negligent, they are precluded from recovering for their injuries.

The assumption of risk is a different, but related concept. Under an assumption of the risk defense, a defendant is claiming that the plaintiff voluntarily entered into a situation with full knowledge and appreciation of the risks involved. In these situations, while a plaintiff’s actions may not have contributed to their injuries, their acceptance of the risks involved with a particular activity prevent them from holding others responsible for their injuries. The doctrine of assumption of the risk only rarely applies to Washington, D.C. car accident cases. That said, it is much more common in premises liability cases and sports injury cases.

A recent state appellate opinion discusses the concept of assumption of the risk as it relates to skiing.

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After a plaintiff files a Washington, D.C. personal injury case, the need may arise for the plaintiff to file an amendment to their complaint. It may be possible to add a previously unnamed party, add or remove a claim, or correct a party’s name. Depending on the amendment, there can be major implications regarding the applicable statute of limitations. Thus, in order to understand why the concept of relation back is important, one must first be familiar with statutes of limitation.

Generally speaking, a statute of limitations provides for the timeframe in which the plaintiff has to file a lawsuit. The statute of limitations usually starts to run at the time of injury; however, there are extenuating circumstances in which the statute of limitations does not begin to accrue until a later date. Once the statute of limitations expires, the plaintiff can no longer pursue a claim against the defendant. In Washington, D.C., the statute of limitations for personal injury actions is three years.

A recent opinion issued by a state appellate court discussed the concept of relation back, and why it is so important.

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Washington, D.C. personal injury claims that are brought by an employee against an employer are rare, because the Washington, D.C. workers’ compensation program typically acts as an injured employee’s sole remedy against their employer. The good news is that workers’ compensation claims do not require an employee to show that their employer was at fault. This makes obtaining compensation easier in situations where an employer was not at fault, or even when an employee was at fault.

The problem with workers’ compensation claims is that they offer limited compensation to injury victims. Generally, a workers’ compensation claimant is only entitled to compensation for medical expenses and wages. This leaves an injured employee with no recourse for the emotional pain and suffering that frequently accompany these injuries.

Although rare, in some cases it is possible to pursue a Washington, D.C. personal injury claim against an employer. For example, if an employer caused an employee’s injury through intentional conduct, the employer may not receive protection from the workers’ compensation program. Additionally, if the injured worker is either a seaman or a railroad worker, federal law may explicitly allow for a claim to be filed against an employer.

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In a Washington, D.C. medical malpractice case, a plaintiff must be able to establish that the care provided by the named defendants fell below the applicable standard of care. In addition, a plaintiff must show that a defendant’s act or omission was the cause of their injuries. This is referred to as causation. A recent case issued by a state appellate court discusses causation in the medical malpractice context.

The Facts

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff noticed a large mass on the back of her head. She went to the doctor, who diagnosed the mass as a tumor, and was referred to a neurosurgeon. The neurosurgeon determined the mass was an osteosarcoma that was dangerously close to the plaintiff’s brain. He recommended surgery to remove some of the tumor’s mass, to be followed by radiation or chemotherapy. The plaintiff agreed to the surgery.

The neurosurgeon ordered several tests to be conducted by the plaintiff’s primary care doctor to ensure that her body was in good enough condition for the surgery. Evidently, the test results were abnormal. When the plaintiff went in on the day of surgery, the anesthesiologist reviewed the plaintiff’s chart and noticed the abnormal results; however, upon further review, he determined the plaintiff was fine to proceed with the surgery. The anesthesiologist did not inform the surgeons of the abnormal test results.

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Although texting while driving is illegal in Washington, D.C., it still presents a serious danger to D.C. drivers. According to recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, about nine people are killed, and over 1,000 injured, every day in the United States in incidents involving a distracted driver.

Last month, a federal appeals court decided a case against Apple alleging that the iPhone’s text notification caused a fatal car crash involving a distracted driver. According to the plaintiff’s complaint, the at-fault driver received a text message on her iPhone as she was driving on the highway. That driver allegedly looked down to read the message, and when she looked back up at the road, she was unable to avoid a crash. She hit another vehicle, killing two adults and rendering a child paraplegic. The driver was convicted of criminally negligent homicide.

Representatives of the victims in the crash sued Apple in federal court, claiming that the crash was caused by Apple’s failure to warn users about the risks of distracted driving and by Apple’s failure to implement a lock-out mechanism. At the time, Apple had secured a patent for a “lock-out mechanism,” to prevent users from using certain functions while driving. The plaintiffs claimed that Apple was liable in part because it did not implement the lock-out mechanism on the iPhone 5, which the driver was using at the time of the crash. The plaintiffs further claimed that Apple was liable because there is “an unconscious and automatic, neurobiological compulsion to engage in texting behavior” when a user receives a text message notification. Apple moved to dismiss the lawsuit, and the court granted the motion, dismissing the plaintiffs’ complaint. The plaintiffs appealed the decision.

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Last month, we discussed a tragic Washington, D.C. bus accident that claimed the lives of two women who were visiting the nation’s capital from Alaska. Evidently, the women were struck by a private tour bus that was heading northbound on 7th Street, attempting to make a left hand turn onto Pennsylvania Avenue. At the time of the collision, the women were in the crosswalk and had the right-of-way.

In the immediate aftermath of the accident, the cause of the crash seemed to be a mystery. The driver told police that he did not see the women in the road. Police noted that the weather was clear, the bus was in good working order, and the bus driver tested negative for drugs and alcohol. It was also determined that the bus had no passengers on it at the time, and the driver had never been issued a traffic citation.

However, according to a recent news report, video surveillance taken from inside the bus was released, showing that the driver of the tour bus was using a handheld phone at the time of the accident. Apparently, the driver was talking on the phone moments before the crash. The driver put the phone down as he approached the intersection, but then picked the phone back up moments later when it rang. The driver could evidently be seen switching the phone from one hand to his other as he was turning on to Pennsylvania Avenue. Reportedly, the collision can be heard on the surveillance video. The bus driver was arrested and charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter.

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