DC Council Considers Bill Extending Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Claims

Washington C D.C. Tidal Basin cherry treesA bill pending in the District of Columbia Council would extend the statute of limitations for filing a Washington DC wrongful death lawsuit. Known as the “Wrongful Death Act of 2012” (WDA), the bill would change the statute from one year to two years. Councilmembers Phil Mendelson and Marion Barry introduced the bill on March 6, 2012. The bill has been referred to the Council’s Judiciary Committee and is awaiting a hearing. The Office of the Chief Financial Officer, in a letter dated March 19 (PDF file), confirmed that sufficient funds are available through fiscal year 2015 to allow the bill’s implementation.

According to the Blog of Legal Times, an attorney struggling with the tight time constraints of a one-year statute of limitations proposed the bill to Councilmember Barry’s office. Tennessee is reportedly the only other jurisdiction in the United States with a one-year statute of limitations for wrongful death claims. Subject to certain restrictions, Maryland has a three-year statute, and Virginia’s is two years. DC’s one-year statute dates back to the late 19th century.

The District of Columbia Official Code, in Section 16-2702, requires a claimant to bring a wrongful death lawsuit within one year from the date of death. From the standpoint of a personal injury attorney preparing a case for litigation, this does not allow a great deal of time to investigate the facts of the case and develop legal theories of negligence and liability. A wrongful death claim is essentially a claim for negligence, in which the injuries asserted include both the decedent’s death and the claimant’s loss of the decedent’s income, support, and companionship. These damages can be very difficult to evaluate and prove, particularly with a short time limit.

One lawsuit mentioned in relation to the WDA and the relatively brief time period to file a wrongful death claim is Nardyne Jefferies’ claim against the District of Columbia for the death of her daughter, Brishell Jones. Jones was murdered on March 30, 2010 in a mass shooting on South Capitol Street that left three people dead and six wounded. One year to the date after the shootings, Jefferies filed her wrongful death suit.

Jefferies’ lawsuit names the District of Columbia and various agencies and officials as defendants. Because the shooters were known to the DC criminal and juvenile justice systems, the lawsuit alleges that the government should have known that they posed a danger to public safety. Jefferies alleges fourteen separate counts, including several negligence-based counts, alleged violations of District and federal statutes and regulations, and violations of constitutional due process and equal protection. the defendants removed the case to federal court in June 2011, where it is pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Jefferies became an activist for reform, promoting a bill, the South Capitol Street Memorial Act of 2012, that addresses behavioral and mental health needs in DC. This bill addresses many of the issues raised in her lawsuit, although it does not address compensating her loss. The Council passed it in late March of this year, just before the second anniversary of the shootings.

The Washington, DC injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen help people injured due to the negligence of others to recover their just compensation. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.

Web Resources:

Wrongful Death Act of 2012 (PDF)

Notice of Removal of Action (PDF), Nardyne Jefferies v. District of Columbia, et al, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, June 23, 2011

More Blog Posts:

Families of Virginia Tech Shooting Victims Win Trial but Face Cap on Damages, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, April 6, 2012
Washington DC Metro Settles Seven of the Nine Wrongful Death Lawsuits Brought Over 2009 Red Line Crash, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, March 7, 2012
Government Settles Lawsuit over 2001 Anthrax Attacks, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, November 30, 2011
Photo credit: ‘Washington C D.C. Tidal Basin cherry trees’ by USDA photo by Scott Bauer (United States Department of Agriculture) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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