Articles Posted in Personal Injury Case Law

The difference between an independent contractor and an employee is an important distinction in Washington, D.C. personal injury cases because an injured person’s ability to recover may be limited based on the negligent actor’s status. The following case shows how the plaintiff’s ability to recover compensation from his employer was limited by the wrongful actor’s status as an independent contractor.

In that case, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant’s negligence was the proximate cause of injuries he suffered while working on his property. According to the record in the case, the defendant owned and operated a construction business, and the plaintiff was an employee of the defendant’s company. The defendant sometimes offered employees work at his home outside of normal work hours. One day, the plaintiff and his coworker went to do maintenance work, and among their tasks, they were told to burn the brush in the yard. The plaintiff attempted to do so by standing on top of a large pile of logs and throwing gasoline on the brush. The brush “blew up,” causing him to fall back and burning his skin with severe burns.

The plaintiff claimed that the defendant was liable because he failed to supervise the burning of the brush, he had gasoline available to use, he did not train the plaintiff on how to properly use the gasoline, and he did not train his coworker on how to properly use the gasoline or supervise others properly. He also claimed the defendant was responsible for his coworker’s negligence acts under respondeat superior. The defendant argued he was not liable for any of the coworker’s acts because he was an independent contractor rather than an employee.

Although drivers are required to have insurance, there are drivers on the road without adequate coverage or without insurance at all. However, in the event of a Washington, D.C. car accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver, an accident victim may be able to seek compensation through their own insurance policy by filing a claim for uninsured or underinsured motorist benefits.

Washington, D.C. law requires that insurance companies offer uninsured motorist coverage to drivers. Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage protects insured motorists if the insured is involved in a Washington, D.C. car accident with another driver who is uninsured or underinsured. Uninsured motorist coverage refers to coverage after an insured is involved in an accident with a driver that does not have any motor vehicle liability insurance. Underinsured motorist coverage refers to coverage after an insured is involved in an accident with a driver that has liability insurance but whose coverage is less than the insured’s underinsured motorist coverage. The limits of coverage generally depend on the language in the insurance policy, as in the case below.

Driver Obtains Uninsured Motorist Benefits After Crash with ATV

When someone is injured while on someone else’s property, they may be able to file what is called a Washington, D.C. premises liability lawsuit. Property owners generally have to maintain their premises safe for others—especially those that they explicitly invite onto their property. For example, grocery stores generally have to ensure that their store is safe to shop in, and hotel owners have to make sure their rooms are safe. If a property owner learns about a hazard on their property—a wet floor, for example, or a malfunctioning device that could cause harm—they have to take reasonable steps to fix it and/or warn others of the danger. However, property owners cannot be on the hook for everything on their property—if a hazardous condition arises that they have no constructive notice about—they don’t know about it nor do they have reason to know—they may be able to escape liability if it harms someone.

For example, take a recent slip and fall case. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff spent his day drinking beer and fixing cars at his auto repair shop. That evening, he went to a craft brewery and continued to drink. At some point during the night, he entered the brewery’s restroom and slipped on a wet surface, falling and causing serious back injuries. He then sued the brewery for negligence, and the brewery filed for summary judgment.

The court found that the plaintiff could not recover in this case, because he could not prove how long the alleged wet substance was present on the floor before he slipped. Thus, there was no proof that the brewery had constructive notice of the wet floor—a hazardous condition—and thus they could not be held liable. It would be different if, for instance, there was proof that an employee had seen the wet floor and decided not to fix it, or not to put up a wet floor sign. In that hypothetical, it could be established that the defendant knew about the issue. As it stood, however, the plaintiff could not recover.

In an Washington, D.C. premises liability case, a party must preserve evidence relevant to a claim. Under Washington, D.C. personal injury law, if a party acts in bad faith to destroy a relevant document the party may be liable for spoliation and there will be a strong inference that the document was unfavorable to that party. The court and the jury can consider this inference in deciding the case. If a party fails to preserve evidence but the party did not act intentionally or recklessly, the fact-finder may still draw an inference adverse to the party that failed to preserve the evidence.

To establish a claim of spoliation under Washington, D.C. law, a party must prove: (1) a potential civil action exists; (2) the offending party had a legal or contractual duty to preserve evidence relevant to the claim; (3) the defendant destroyed evidence; (4) the destruction significantly impaired the injured party’s ability to prove the claim; (5) there is a proximate relationship between the impairment and the absence of the destroyed evidence; (6) there is a significant possibility that the claim would succeed if the evidence were available; and (7) damages adjusted for the estimated likelihood of success.

In a recent case before a state appellate court, the court denied a motion for spoliation in a case involving a child that was injured on a playground at a Chick-Fil-A restaurant. In that case, the child had removed his shoes as instructed by a sign at the playground and was playing barefoot on the playground on a hot day when he badly burned the bottoms of his feet. The child’s parents sued the restaurant, arguing that their child was injured by a hazardous condition on the restaurant’s playground. They alleged that the hazardous condition was the use of a sanitizer on the playground that day.

When someone is injured in a Washington, D.C. accident, the law allows them to file a personal injury lawsuit against the party responsible for their injuries. These lawsuits can provide injured plaintiffs with financial compensation for their injuries, including money to cover their medical expenses. However, courts across the country have struggled with how to calculate the amount owed in medical expenses in situations where the total cost is much larger than what the plaintiff has actually paid, due to health insurance. In some cases, courts have even reduced plaintiffs’ awards, granted to them by a jury, meaning the plaintiff is given less than a jury of their peers decided they were owed.

For example, take a recent premises liability case arising out of a slip and fall accident on a cruise ship. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff in the case was on a cruise with her family and eating at the ship’s breakfast buffet when she tripped over a cleaning bucket and fell to the floor, sustaining injuries to her shoulder and fracturing her humerus. Since the incident, the plaintiff has been to many doctor’s appointments, physical therapists, and specialists to deal with her injuries.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the cruise company, alleging negligence in leaving the cleaning bucket in a highly trafficked area around the breakfast buffet. After trial, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff and awarded her over $1 million in damages, including $61,000 to cover past medical expenses. This award for medical expenses roughly matched the amount billed by the plaintiff’s healthcare providers. However, the district court reduced this part of the jury award to $16,326 because that was the amount that the plaintiff and her insurer actually paid. The plaintiff appealed this reduction.

In the event that a consumer is injured by a defective product, a number of parties may be liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. Under Washington, D.C. product liability law, a person or an entity that engages in selling or distributing products is liable for harm caused by a defective product sold or distributed by that person or entity. Therefore, manufacturers and sellers are strictly liable for their defective products.

In a strict liability claim under Washington, D.C. law, a plaintiff must prove that the seller engaged in the business of selling the product that caused the harm, the product was defective and unreasonably dangerous when it was sold to the consumer, the seller expected to and reached the consumer without any substantial change in the product’s condition, and the defect directly and proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

In a recent case before a state appellate court, the court considered the reach of strict liability laws in the online shopping era. Specifically, the court considered whether Amazon could be held liable for a defective product sold on its site. The plaintiff purchased a replacement laptop computer battery on Amazon. The listing identified the seller as “E-life,” and was sold by Lenoge Technology. Amazon charged the plaintiff, packaged the battery for shipment in Amazon packaging, and sent it to the plaintiff. The plaintiff claimed that several months after she bought it, the battery exploded and caused her severe burns. She filed suit against Amazon, Lenoge, and others. The plaintiff claimed in part that Amazon was strictly liable for the defective product. Amazon argued that it did not distribute, manufacture, or sell the product, and thus it could not be held liable under strict liability laws. The trial court agreed, and the plaintiff appealed.

Expert witnesses can provide useful testimony in a Washington, D.C. car accident case—and in some cases, their testimony is essential. Courts have held that in cases where the negligent conduct is “within the realm of common knowledge and everyday experience” a plaintiff does not need to present expert testimony to establish the standard of care or to prove that the defendant failed to meet the standard. However, in some cases, Washington, D.C. courts may require expert testimony to establish the standard of care, breach, or other issues.

If a case involves issues that are beyond the common knowledge of an average person, the court will generally find that an expert is essential to the case. For example, Washington, D.C. courts have held that an expert is required in cases that involve the operation of a juvenile detention center, the supervision of foster parents, the processing of credit card applications, and the maintenance of a water main system. A court has the discretion to admit or require expert testimony in a case.

In a recent case before another state appeals court, the court held that expert testimony was not required to rebut another expert’s testimony. In that case, the plaintiff had been injured in a car accident and filed a negligence claim against another driver involved in the accident, the owner of the vehicle, and an uninsured motorist claim against the plaintiff’s insurer. The plaintiff settled the claims with the driver and the owner but continued to trial against the insurer.

In some personal injury cases, negligence may be obvious from the accident itself. In these situations, a plaintiff in a Washington, D.C. injury case may be able to invoke the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor. Res ipsa loquitor is a legal doctrine that applies in negligence cases where negligence is obvious from the occurrence itself. Under Washington, D.C. law, a plaintiff that invokes the doctrine is required to prove, 1.) the occurrence is one that normally does not occur in the absence of negligence; 2.) the occurrence was caused by an agent or instrument that was within the defendant’s control; and 3.) the plaintiff did not cause or contribute to the incident resulting in heir injuries.

Washington, D.C. courts have cautioned against the use of the doctrine. Courts have held that a plaintiff must show that negligence can be inferred based on matters of common knowledge or present an expert to explain that the accident generally did not occur in the absence of negligence. In a recent case, another state’s appeals court considered whether the doctrine absolved the plaintiff of proving that a defendant had notice of a dangerous condition after the plaintiff’s chair broke on a cruise ship.

The plaintiff in the noted case sat on a chair on a Carnival cruise ship and the chair collapsed. After she fell, she saw that a leg had fallen off the chair. At the medical center aboard the ship, they found her arm was not broken and she was given Tylenol, ice, and a sling. After the cruise, the plaintiff discovered that she was suffering from medial epicondylitis and ulnar neurapraxia, or tendinitis, and a nerve injury. The plaintiff filed suit against the cruise line, alleging in part that it had failed to inspect and maintain the cabin furniture. After a court dismissed her case, an appeals court considered whether the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor applied. The plaintiff argued that even if the cruise line did not have notice of the chair’s dangerous condition, it could still be held liable under the this doctrine.

In the District of Columbia, landowners have a general duty to exercise reasonable care to make the property reasonably safe. If a landlord has notice of a dangerous condition, including a hazardous accumulation of snow or ice, the landowner must exercise ordinary care under the circumstances to remove the dangerous condition. This means that a landlord may have a duty under Washington, D.C. premises liability law, to take feasible measures while a storm is still in progress. However, to hold a landlord responsible for their injuries, a plaintiff must show that the landlord knew or should have known about the dangerous condition, including the presence of snow or ice. This means that often, a landlord who does not know about a dangerous accumulation of snow or ice has a reasonable amount of time after the conclusion of a storm to remove the snow or ice.

Recently a state appellate court issued an opinion holding that a landlord was not be protected by the state’s continuing storm doctrine, because the landlord failed to prove that there was a continuing storm based on the weather at the time of the plaintiff’s fall. In that case, the plaintiff slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk outside of her apartment. She filed a lawsuit against her landlord, claiming that the landlord was negligent in failing to keep the path in a safe condition. The landlord argued the according to the continuing storm doctrine, he did not have time to remove or ameliorate the snow or ice at the time that the plaintiff fell.

Under the continuing storm doctrine, a landlord generally may wait until the end of a storm or a reasonable time thereafter to remove ice and snow from an outdoor walkway. The idea is that because of the changing conditions present during a storm, it is not practical or necessary to remove ice and snow. To establish that the continuing storm doctrine applies, there must be meaningful, ongoing accumulation of snow or ice. The court held that in this case, there was a factual dispute as to whether there was a continuing storm. The weather reports showed only trace amounts of precipitation throughout the day, and thus, there was no clear evidence that there was an ongoing accumulation of snow or ice. Therefore, the court held that the landlord failed to show it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law under the continuing storm doctrine.

Washington, D.C.’s Workers’ Compensation Act provides some degree of protection to many injured workers. However, the Act does not protect all workers, does not provide benefits to all family members, and limits the beneficiaries who are able to recover. Under section 32-1504 of the Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act), an employer’s liability under the Act is the exclusive liability of the employer. Thus, a workers’ compensation case may be an injured worker’s only way to recover damages from their employer. The idea is that an employee gives up the right to pursue a tort claim against an employer in exchange for an easier means of recovery through the workers’ compensation system. This means that, normally, claims must be brought first before the Office of Workers’ Compensation and will generally be resolved through the agency.

However, Washington, D.C. law allows an employee to pursue a claim against a third party if a third party, such as a contractor, causes the plaintiff’s injury. In addition, injuries that are intentionally inflicted upon an employee and intended by the employer fall outside of the Act.

A recent case before one state’s supreme court demonstrates the limitations of the intentional-injury exception to that state’s workers’ compensation act. In that case, the plaintiff’s husband worked at a trucking and warehousing company. One day, after working long hours, his rig ran off the highway and rolled over, killing the plaintiff’s husband. The plaintiff filed a claim arguing that her husband was killed because he was overworked by the employer.

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