Washington DC Car Accident Lawsuit Alleges Direct Negligence and Respondeat Superior: Lewis-Shephard v. Burch, et al

A lawsuit filed last year alleges two types of liability in a Washington DC automobile accident. The plaintiff in Lewis-Shephard v. Burch, et al filed suit against two defendants: the driver of a vehicle that allegedly struck her when she was on foot, and the owner of said vehicle. The lawsuit alleges that the driver’s negligent operation of the automobile led directly to the accident and her injuries. It also alleges that the automobile owner is liable for the plaintiff’s damages because, under D.C. law, she made the driver her agent by entrusting the vehicle to him.

The accident occurred during the afternoon of September 19, 2008. According to her complaint, the plaintiff, Kathy Lewis-Shephard, was walking east through the crosswalk on 12th Street NW, at the intersection with I Street. The vehicle driven by the defendant, Phillip Burch, Jr., was allegedly traveling west on I Street and turned right to go north on 12th Street. The plaintiff alleges that Burch failed to yield the right of way to her, and his vehicle hit her.

Lewis-Shepard filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in September 2011, asserting diversity jurisdiction between herself, a Maryland resident, and the two defendants, both New Jersey residents. She named Burch and the owner of the car Burch was allegedly driving, Agnes Dalley, as defendants.


The plaintiff asserted a general negligence claim against Burch. To prevail on a negligence claim, a plaintiff must prove four elements by a preponderance of evidence.
1. That a defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, either as part of a general duty of care or because of a specific obligation. Lewis-Shephard alleged that that Burch owed a duty of care to her and all others using public roads to obey traffic laws and drive safely.
2. That a defendant breached this duty. In the present case, the plaintiff alleged that Burch breached his duty of care by failing to yield the right of way to her in the crosswalk.
3. That the defendant’s breach caused the accident or injury. This requires proof that, but for the defendant’s alleged breach, the injury would likely not have occurred. Lewis-Shephard alleges that, since her injury involves an impact by Burch’s vehicle, it would not have happened had he met his duty of care to yield the right of way.

4. Actual, measurable damages resulting from the accident or injury. Lewis-Shephard does not itemize her damages in her complaint, but she claims $1 million in damages.

The plaintiff’s cause of action against Dalley is based on the doctrine of respondeat superior. This usually holds an employer liable for the negligence of an employee, when the employee is acting within the scope of employment. Washington DC law deems a driver of someone else’s car to be the owner’s agent, when the driver has the owner’s permission. If a plaintiff can prove the driver’s negligence, respondeat superior allows a court to hold the employer or owner liable, either along with or in place of the agent.

The attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen help people in the Washington, DC area recover their just compensation when they have suffered injuries in automobile accidents or other incidents caused by the negligent or unlawful conduct of others. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.

More Blog Posts:

Preventing the Non-Crash Auto Deaths of Kids, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, July 26, 2011
Chevy Chase Driver Found Guilty of Negligence Homicide in Washington DC Car Crash that Killed Howard County Woman, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, June 28, 2011
Washington DC Wrongful Death: Family of Woman Killed in Adams Morgan Pedestrian Accident Seeks $20M from Drunk Driver, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, May 18, 2011
Photo credit: ‘1401 I Street NW – Washington DC – south and east facades’ by Tim1965 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

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