Are Contracts that Limit a Washington, D.C. Statute of Limitations Enforceable?

A statute of limitations refers to the time period in which a lawsuit must be filed. Knowing the relevant statute of limitations is essential, and it varies depending on the type of claim and where the claim is filed. The general statute of limitations for Washington, D.C. personal injury lawsuits is three years, as explained in D.C. Code § 12-301. However, some types of claims have shorter or longer statute of limitations. For example, the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims is two years. In comparison, Maryland has a three-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims and wrongful death claims.

Failing to file within the applicable statute of limitations will likely result in a dismissal of the claim, regardless of the merits of the claim. In some cases, the statute of limitations can be tolled. In other cases, the statute of limitations may be shortened based on an otherwise-agreed upon limitation. In a recent case before one state’s supreme court, the court considered whether a statute of limitations still applied despite a shortened limitation period agreed upon in a contract.

In that case, a tenant fell in the common area of her apartment complex. She later filed a claim against the apartment complex, alleging negligence and negligence per se, claiming that the complex failed to repair a crumbling curb, despite being aware of its condition. The complex claimed that the claim was barred by a limitations period that was included in her lease. The tenant filed the lawsuit exactly two years after her injury, and the claim normally would have been subject to a two-year statute of limitations. However, the woman’s lease contained a clause which stated that any legal claim against the complex was required to be filed within one year.

A trial court and an appeals court both found in the complex’s favor. However, the state’s supreme court disagreed. The court explained that the limitation provision could only be applied to claims relating to a breach of contract, and not to a premises-liability tort claim. The court explained that the clause had to be considered in the context of the contract, and found that in this context, “any legal action” had to be considered within the context of the lease agreement. The court construed the contract against the complex, as the drafter of the lease, and found that the clause could be understood to apply only to lawsuits arising from the lease agreement. Therefore, the court decided that the limitation provision in the lease did not apply, and that the case was timely filed.

Have You Been Injured?

If you have suffered an injury and believe another party may be at fault, contact an experienced attorney about filing a Washington, D.C. premises liability claim. The compassionate personal injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen, Personal Injury Lawyers will fight for your rights to and seek to get you the compensation you deserve. With decades of combined experience, our lawyers understand the complex issues that arise in personal injury cases. We have the tenacity and resources to seek out all parties that may be responsible for causing your injury. To arrange a free consultation, call us at 800-654-1949, or contact us online.

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