Articles Posted in Personal Injury Case Law

The difference between civil law and criminal law is important to understand. While both generally try to protect individuals from harm and deal with harm once it has occurred, they do so in very different ways. Criminal law deals with punishment of criminal offenses, such as murder, burglary, or assault. A defendant in a criminal law case, if found guilty, may be subject to incarceration. On the other hand, civil law deals with disputes between two different parties, usually issues of negligence. For example, medical malpractice, slip and falls, and car accident claims may all be brought in civil court. While civil law can hold a defendant responsible for monetary damages, a defendant cannot be sent to jail in a civil trial. However, it is important for Washington, D.C. residents to understand that, despite the distinction between these two areas of law, one incident or accident can lead to both a civil and criminal trial.

When someone is injured by a criminal act, such as an assault, there is typically a criminal investigation. Many victims make the mistake of thinking that the criminal investigation is the only possible response in that situation. In fact, in many of these situations, a plaintiff can also bring an individual civil suit against the person who harmed them or another responsible party. For example, if someone is hit and killed by a drunk driver, there will likely be a criminal investigation and the driver may be charged with manslaughter. However, regardless of how the criminal trial goes, the victim’s family can also bring a negligence action against the intoxicated driver to recover for pain and suffering, medical bills, lost wages, funeral expenses, and more. Unlike a criminal trial, this civil trial can provide monetary compensation directly to those individuals most impacted and harmed by the accident.

Sometimes, the civil suit can be brought not against the alleged “criminal” but another party. This is most common in premise liability cases. In Washington, D.C., property owners are responsible for taking reasonable precautions to protect those they invite onto their property. Failure to do so can result in liability. For example, a recent state appellate case considered the wrongful death of an apartment complex’s resident. The resident was headed to work when he was robbed and shot, ultimately dying from the gunshot wound. While a criminal case was opened against the men who shot him, the victim’s family also brought a civil case against the apartment complex owner. In some cases, an apartment complex can be found negligent for not doing more to protect its residents from crime. Failure to install security cameras or patrol known dangerous areas can be evidence of negligence in this type of case. Thus, Washington D.C. plaintiffs should keep in mind that events leading to a criminal case may also lead to a civil case, allowing them to recover for the injuries suffered.

Vicarious liability is a legal concept that acts to hold a principal liable for the actions of an agent. Under Washington, D.C. law, an employer can be held liable for the legally careless actions of an employee in a medical malpractice case, even if the employer itself did not commit any legally careless actions. Vicarious liability is based on a relationship between the parties. As a matter of policy, employers are held responsible in part because they are often better situated to provide financial compensation to victims.

In a recent case before one state supreme court, the court considered whether a hospital could still be held liable after a surgeon entered into a settlement agreement with the plaintiff. In that case, a woman’s daughter filed a lawsuit after her mother died two days after undergoing surgery at a hospital. The woman’s daughter sued the hospital and two surgeons. One of the surgeons subsequently entered into a settlement with the plaintiff. As part of the settlement, the plaintiff signed a release, which released the doctor from all claims. The hospital was not involved in the settlement agreement. However, the hospital subsequently filed a motion for partial summary judgment, arguing that the release of the doctor released the hospital from vicarious liability for that doctor’s alleged negligence.

In that case, the state’s supreme court found that the release signed by the doctor also released the hospital from its vicarious liability arising from that doctor’s alleged negligence. The court reasoned that the purpose of the release in part was to reduce the plaintiff’s claims against other parties, so it served to extinguish the plaintiff’s claim against the hospital. It found that the release functioned to fully satisfy the plaintiff’s claims against the hospital.

When an individual ends up in a hospital, they expect that the nurses and doctors will take care of them and make sure they are safe. Because of the level of trust given to health care professionals, and the stakes at issue, Washington, D.C. (the District) medical malpractice cases can be extremely traumatic. Unfortunately, however, doctors and nurses can and do make mistakes. Generally, Washington, D.C. law allows victims to sue when they are injured as a result of those mistakes.

However, some laws in the District may prevent a plaintiff from recovering anything against their medical provider, even if they were injured as a result of the provider’s negligence. For instance, Washington, D.C. residents should be aware of the District’s harsh contributory negligence rules, which will bar a plaintiff from recovering anything for his damages if the court finds he was at all responsible for his injury. This applies in situations where a plaintiff is found to be just 5 percent responsible. In some unusual cases, a plaintiff who brings suit against a medical provider and is found partially accountable may even end up owing the medical providers money for legal fees.

Additionally, plaintiffs may find themselves unable to recover if they decide to leave the hospital against medical advice (AMA). Typically, in these cases, the hospital will ask the patient to sign a form indicating that they are leaving AMA, that they assume all of the risks of doing so, and that they release the hospital and medical staff of all liability. Sometimes patients won’t even read this form thoroughly, but signing it can preclude a plaintiff from successfully bringing a suit later on. For instance, in a recent state appellate opinion, the court dismissed a plaintiff’s lawsuit against her doctor because she signed an AMA form.

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.

When someone is injured in a Washington, D.C. accident as the result of someone else’s negligence, the law allows them to file a claim to recover monetary damages for their injury. But, in order to be successful, the plaintiff must prove their case through evidence. However, in some cases, the defendant may negligently or intentionally destroy evidence that the plaintiff needs to win at trial. This is particularly true in products liability cases but can happen in other Washington, D.C. personal injury cases as well. When this happens, plaintiffs can bring a spoliation of evidence claim against the party who destroyed the evidence.

In Washington, D.C., plaintiffs can only bring a spoliation of evidence claim against a third-party. For an example of a third-party spoliation case, take a recent state appellate case in which a plaintiff was injured using a paint sprayer at work. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was injured when the paint sprayer activated whilst being cleaned, and injected paint and minerals into his right index finger. The plaintiff was transported to the hospital and underwent a series of painful procedures to try and save his finger. Ultimately, the plaintiff’s finger could not be saved and had to be amputated all the way down to this hand. The plaintiff then had to have another medical procedure at the amputation site and is now at great risk of developing additional painful conditions as a result of the injury.

The plaintiff wanted to bring a products liability case against the manufacturer of the paint sprayer, but unfortunately, the paint sprayer and all of its related parts were negligently lost by the plaintiff’s workplace. The plaintiff thus brought a third-party spoliation of evidence claim against his workplace, because their negligence in storing the evidence he needed for his claim impacted his ability to recover under a products liability case.

When someone is injured as a result of another person’s negligence, Washington D.C. law allows the victim to seek monetary compensation from the party responsible for their injuries. The victim may file a negligence action, and if successful they may recover for lost wages, past and future medical bills, and even for the pain and suffering they suffered as a result of their injury. While this may sound like a simple process, the requirements for successfully bringing a negligence claim can at times be difficult to manage.

To be successful in a negligence claim, a plaintiff must show that the defendant had a duty of care towards the plaintiff, that the defendant breached that duty, that the breach was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury, and that the plaintiff suffered damages as a result. When filing a claim, it is crucial to include all of these elements in the complaint. Without one of the above elements, the case can be dismissed before it even begins, and the plaintiff will not recover any compensation for their injuries.

For instance, it is not enough to establish that the defendant had a duty of care toward the plaintiff, that they breached this duty, and that the plaintiff was injured. Missing in this example is the critical element of causation. To succeed, the plaintiff must show that their injuries were a direct result of the defendant’s breach of duty. This cannot be implied but must be explicitly stated.

A state appellate court recently considered a case highlighting the importance of local contributory negligence laws in Washington, D.C. slip and fall cases. According to the court’s decision, the defendant, an auto car dealership, hired a cleaning company to clean the dealership. The plaintiff was an employee of the cleaning company and was covering for another employee janitor while cleaning the dealership one night. While cleaning, the plaintiff decided to take out the trash before scrubbing the floors of a certain area of the dealership. On his way to the dumpster, however, he slipped in a puddle of oil and transmission fluid that he had not seen previously.

As a result of his slip and fall accident, the plaintiff suffered a severe knee injury, and he eventually brought suit against the defendant dealership to seek monetary compensation. In his suit, he argued that the dealership was negligent by breaching their duty to maintain reasonably safe premises for him and that he suffered injuries as a result.

Under Washington, D.C. law in this situation, the defendant dealership might be able to argue that the plaintiff was partially at fault for his injuries, because he knew there was likely to be oil and transmission fluid on the floor and he thus should have been more careful. Employers do have a duty of care to provide reasonably safe working conditions for those who work for them, but employers faced with this type of liability may want to argue that the victim was contributorily negligent and thus partially responsible for the accident.

In Washington D.C., injury victims may be able to recover for their damages if they can establish that their injuries were the result of another’s negligence. Lawsuits based on another’s negligence are appropriate when the accident victim can prove that the other party’s negligent action or inaction caused their injuries. Favorable outcomes are only possible when the victim successfully meets the following four elements of a Washington D.C personal injury action: duty, breach, causation, and damages. The first two elements require the victim to prove that the other party owed them a duty to act responsibly, and that they breached this duty. Victims often face challenges when they reach the causation element.

In Washington D.C., plaintiffs must prove that the defendant’s actions were either the cause-in-fact or proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. Cause-in-fact is when the injury would not have occurred but-for some action of the defendant. Whereas, proximate cause is a legal theory where the plaintiff argues that the defendant engaged in some action that set in motion the sequence of events that ultimately led to the plaintiff’s injury.

Proximate cause is broken down into two further elements; policy, and cause-in-fact. Washington, D.C specified these two distinctions in an attempt to limit a defendant’s responsibility. Most frequently, the defense occurs in instances where a defendant claims that the chain of events that led to the plaintiff’s injuries was unforeseeable or extraordinary.

Washington, D.C. slip and fall lawsuits are based on the traditional theory of negligence and fault. Thus, when a pedestrian slips and falls due to an issue with a walking area or path, the property or landowner may be liable for the pedestrian’s injuries. Most frequently, slip and fall lawsuits stem from injuries that occur on slippery surfaces, uneven walkways, unsecured rugs, or liquid spills. However, Washington, D.C. slip and fall lawsuits may also arise from injuries sustained from short steps, inappropriate lighting, and unstable handrails. For some, the damages that result from these dangerous conditions may not be significant; however, others suffer severe injuries after premises liability accidents.

Under Washington, D.C. premises liability law, property owners or occupiers must take specific steps to ensure that their property is safe for visitors. The standard of care that a property owner owes their visitor depends on the type of person who is visiting the property. In business situations, visitors are often considered “invitees.” These are individuals who enter a property for the benefit of the property owner. Property owners must use reasonable and ordinary care to correct and warn their visitors of any dangerous conditions. Although, Washington, D.C. law requires property owners to provide safe environments for customers and passersby; the law also requires invitees to engage in safe behavior.

Washington, D.C. law allows defendants to use contributory negligence as a defense to the claims against them. Washington, D.C.  is one of only four states that follows the theory of pure contributory negligence. Pure contributory negligence bars plaintiffs from recovery if the courts find that they possessed any fault for the accident. This means that if the plaintiff were even 1% at fault, their claim would be barred entirely. There are ways to overcome a contributory negligence defense, but they require a thorough understanding of premises liability laws.

When someone buys a home, especially one that is newly built, they assume that it will be safe. However, that is not always the case. Construction companies routinely cut corners as they approach deadlines, or as other jobs start coming in. On occasion, these shortcuts will affect the structural integrity of the home or the home’s safety.

Generally, home builders can be responsible when someone is hurt as a result of their negligence through a Washington, D.C. personal injury case. However, under D.C. Code § 12–310, there is a ten-year statute of repose that applies to these claims. A statute of repose is a law that imposes a deadline by which a plaintiff must file their claim. Unlike a statute of limitation, a statute of repose cannot be tolled or extended, even if the plaintiff has no idea they may have a case against the defendant until the statute has expired.

D.C. Code § 12–310 provides that claims resulting from the defective or unsafe condition of an improvement to real property must be filed “within the ten-year period beginning on the date the improvement was substantially completed.” A recent state appellate decision illustrates how courts analyze construction claims.

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