The courts in Washington, D.C. deal with a heavy caseload. Indeed, it is not uncommon for a Washington, D.C. personal injury case to take months, if not years, to reach trial. In most cases, some delay is expected while the parties conduct their investigation, exchange discoverable materials, and prepare their case. However, if a court determines that a plaintiff is not pursuing their case dutifully, the court has the power to dismiss the plaintiff’s case.
While dismissal for a plaintiff’s failure to prosecute a case is a rare sanction that is not often imposed, a recent appellate decision illustrates when courts are willing to impose sanctions on a party who is not diligently pursuing their claim.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the defendant in 2005. However, since the plaintiff failed to attach a required expert affidavit, the case was voluntarily withdrawn without prejudice in 2007. The next day, the plaintiff filed another lawsuit against the same defendants; however, that case was withdrawn the next year under similar circumstances. The plaintiff’s third lawsuit was filed the very next day.
The plaintiff’s third lawsuit was contested by the defendants, who argued that it was filed after the statute of limitations had expired. Eventually, in 2010, the court determined that the third lawsuit was timely and permitted the case to proceed toward trial.
Even after the judge’s ruling that the plaintiff’s lawsuit was timely, little was done to pursue the case. Fifteen months later, just two deposition notices had been filed, and neither witness had been deposed. After five years, just one witness was deposed. The court eventually listed the plaintiff’s case for dismissal, assuming that it was inactive and that she was no longer pursuing the claims against the defendants. Two days later, the defendants successfully petitioned the court to dismiss the case without prejudice, meaning that the case could be refiled. However, since the statute of limitations had expired, refiling the case was not an option for the plaintiff, and the court’s decision effectively precluded her from recovering compensation for her injuries. The plaintiff then appealed the dismissal with prejudice.
The appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case, explaining that trial courts have the power to dismiss a plaintiff’s case when they fail to prosecute the case. Here, the court explained, the plaintiff had several year-long periods in which no action was taken. While the plaintiff attempted to explain the delay to the trial court, the court was within its discretion to dismiss the case. The court noted that a defendant seeking dismissal must establish that there was some prejudice suffered by the plaintiff’s delay. However, the court determined that prejudice can be inferred in cases of an unreasonably long delay.
Have You Been Injured in a Washington, D.C. Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Washington, D.C. accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The skilled Washington, D.C. personal injury attorneys at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC have extensive experience representing clients in all types of Washington, D.C. medical malpractice matters. We diligently pursue our clients’ claims from the initial filing all the way through trial, and into the appellate process if necessary. Call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation with a dedicated attorney at the Washington, D.C. law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC.
More Blog Posts:
Court Upholds Slip-and-Fall Plaintiff’s Verdict Against Hospital, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, September 4, 2017
Plaintiff’s Improper Service of Defendant Results in Dismissal of Wrongful Death Case, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, September 19, 2017