Articles Posted in Personal Injury Case Law

Most Washington, D.C. personal injury cases are based on the theory of negligence. In Washington, D.C., there are two primary defenses to personal injury lawsuits: contributory negligence and assumption of the risk. As we have discussed at length in other posts, contributory negligence refers to an injury victim’s shared responsibility in bringing about their own injuries. Under Washington, D.C. personal injury law, if a plaintiff is contributorily negligent, they are precluded from recovering for their injuries.

The assumption of risk is a different, but related concept. Under an assumption of the risk defense, a defendant is claiming that the plaintiff voluntarily entered into a situation with full knowledge and appreciation of the risks involved. In these situations, while a plaintiff’s actions may not have contributed to their injuries, their acceptance of the risks involved with a particular activity prevent them from holding others responsible for their injuries. The doctrine of assumption of the risk only rarely applies to Washington, D.C. car accident cases. That said, it is much more common in premises liability cases and sports injury cases.

A recent state appellate opinion discusses the concept of assumption of the risk as it relates to skiing.

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After a plaintiff files a Washington, D.C. personal injury case, the need may arise for the plaintiff to file an amendment to their complaint. It may be possible to add a previously unnamed party, add or remove a claim, or correct a party’s name. Depending on the amendment, there can be major implications regarding the applicable statute of limitations. Thus, in order to understand why the concept of relation back is important, one must first be familiar with statutes of limitation.

Generally speaking, a statute of limitations provides for the timeframe in which the plaintiff has to file a lawsuit. The statute of limitations usually starts to run at the time of injury; however, there are extenuating circumstances in which the statute of limitations does not begin to accrue until a later date. Once the statute of limitations expires, the plaintiff can no longer pursue a claim against the defendant. In Washington, D.C., the statute of limitations for personal injury actions is three years.

A recent opinion issued by a state appellate court discussed the concept of relation back, and why it is so important.

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Washington, D.C. personal injury claims that are brought by an employee against an employer are rare, because the Washington, D.C. workers’ compensation program typically acts as an injured employee’s sole remedy against their employer. The good news is that workers’ compensation claims do not require an employee to show that their employer was at fault. This makes obtaining compensation easier in situations where an employer was not at fault, or even when an employee was at fault.

The problem with workers’ compensation claims is that they offer limited compensation to injury victims. Generally, a workers’ compensation claimant is only entitled to compensation for medical expenses and wages. This leaves an injured employee with no recourse for the emotional pain and suffering that frequently accompany these injuries.

Although rare, in some cases it is possible to pursue a Washington, D.C. personal injury claim against an employer. For example, if an employer caused an employee’s injury through intentional conduct, the employer may not receive protection from the workers’ compensation program. Additionally, if the injured worker is either a seaman or a railroad worker, federal law may explicitly allow for a claim to be filed against an employer.

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Although texting while driving is illegal in Washington, D.C., it still presents a serious danger to D.C. drivers. According to recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, about nine people are killed, and over 1,000 injured, every day in the United States in incidents involving a distracted driver.

Last month, a federal appeals court decided a case against Apple alleging that the iPhone’s text notification caused a fatal car crash involving a distracted driver. According to the plaintiff’s complaint, the at-fault driver received a text message on her iPhone as she was driving on the highway. That driver allegedly looked down to read the message, and when she looked back up at the road, she was unable to avoid a crash. She hit another vehicle, killing two adults and rendering a child paraplegic. The driver was convicted of criminally negligent homicide.

Representatives of the victims in the crash sued Apple in federal court, claiming that the crash was caused by Apple’s failure to warn users about the risks of distracted driving and by Apple’s failure to implement a lock-out mechanism. At the time, Apple had secured a patent for a “lock-out mechanism,” to prevent users from using certain functions while driving. The plaintiffs claimed that Apple was liable in part because it did not implement the lock-out mechanism on the iPhone 5, which the driver was using at the time of the crash. The plaintiffs further claimed that Apple was liable because there is “an unconscious and automatic, neurobiological compulsion to engage in texting behavior” when a user receives a text message notification. Apple moved to dismiss the lawsuit, and the court granted the motion, dismissing the plaintiffs’ complaint. The plaintiffs appealed the decision.

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For the most part, the federal governments are responsible for building and maintaining the District’s roads. However, it is not uncommon for a motorist to find themselves on privately constructed and maintained roads. These include parking garages and private residential communities.

If a Maryland or Washington D.C. car accident occurs on a public road, it will be difficult to establish liability against the government unless the government failed to safely maintain the road. This is due to the immunity that governments have from liability. However, when a car accident occurs on private property, the landowner may be liable for the accident victim’s injuries. An example of this would be a private parking garage that is constructed with a blind corner.

A recent case discusses what an accident victim must prove in order to establish liability against a landowner in a car accident case.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case that was brought against a hardware store after the plaintiff slipped and fell in the garden section. The case required the court to discuss what it termed the “distraction doctrine,” which may excuse a plaintiff’s failure to notice an open and obvious hazard.

The case is important to Washington, D.C. slip-and-fall victims because courts have routinely held that a plaintiff’s failure to notice an open and obvious hazard will preclude recovery. Thus, although the plaintiff’s argument, in this case, failed to persuade the court, the example illustrates when a plaintiff’s failure to take notice of a hazard may be excused.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was a frequent customer of the defendant hardware store. One day, the plaintiff visited the store to pick up a sprinkler timer. The plaintiff approached an employee in the garden section to ask where the timers were located. The employee told the plaintiff to follow him, and the plaintiff began to follow the employee.

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For a plaintiff to succeed in a personal injury case, they must be able to establish that the defendant’s negligence resulted in their injuries. In the context of a Washington, D.C. premises liability case, a plaintiff must show that the defendant was aware of the hazard that caused the plaintiff’s injuries and failed to take reasonable steps to remedy the hazard.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a premises liability case discussing whether a plaintiff’s claim against a doctor’s office could proceed. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff could not establish that the office knew of the hazard before the plaintiff’s fall and dismissed the plaintiff’s case.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the plaintiff was walking near a desk at the defendant doctor’s office when she felt something grab her pant leg. The plaintiff fell to the ground. While on the ground, the plaintiff noticed a wheelchair nearby that was leaned up against a desk. The plaintiff did not see what caused her to fall, but assumed it was the wheelchair.

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Earlier last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving the question of whether a retail store violated a duty it owed to a customer when it failed to provide the customer with a staged shopping cart. Ultimately, the court concluded that the store’s duty was not defined by its internal operating procedures, and that the store had no obligation to provide the plaintiff with a staged shopping cart. Thus, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims.

The case presents an important issue that frequently arises in Washington, D.C. premises liability cases. Specifically, whether a landowner has a duty to a visitor, and if so, the extent of that duty.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was an older man who required a cane and an oxygen tank. One day, the plaintiff’s wife dropped him off at the front of the store. The plaintiff went to obtain a shopping cart from the corral of carts near the store’s entrance. Because the shopping carts were stuck together, the plaintiff placed his cane and oxygen tank inside a cart as he tried to separate the carts. However, the plaintiff slipped and fell while trying to separate the carts, sustaining serious injuries as a result.

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In a recent case, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Virginia premises liability lawsuit addressing a previously unanswered question regarding the duty a vacation home owner owes to short-term guests. The case may prove instructive to homeowners dealing with Washington, D.C. premises liability cases. The court in this case ultimately concluded that the arrangement to rent a vacation home, even for a short period of time, more closely resembles the relationship between a landlord and a tenant than it does an innkeeper and a guest.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendants owned a home in Virginia Beach. The defendants would rent the home out to vacationers between May and October. During those months, the defendants used a property management company to handle the day-to-day duties associated with maintaining the home, including cleaning the house which was only done in between stays. The home was rented fully furnished.

The plaintiff’s family rented the defendants’ vacation home for a week. The plaintiff checked in at the property management office and was provided linens. As the plaintiff was carrying a bin of linens through the house, she tripped on a raised strip of wood that was used as a transition between carpet and tile. As a result of the fall, the plaintiff seriously injured her elbow, which later required two surgeries.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing an important doctrine of law called res ipsa loquitor. The court’s discussion of res ipsa loquitor is important for Maryland personal injury victims to understand because Maryland also employs the doctrine in certain situations.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured when she was exiting an elevator. Evidently, the elevator doors unexpectedly and repeatedly closed on the plaintiff. The plaintiff filed a personal injury case against the condo association where her injuries occurred, relying on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor.

The Doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitor

Res ipsa loquitor is a Latin phrase meaning “the thing speaks for itself.” The legal doctrine of res ipsa loquitor allows for a fact-finder to infer negligence against a party that is in sole control of an instrumentality that malfunctions and causes injury to another. Thus, when res ipsa loquitor applies, a plaintiff can rely on the inference of negligence rather than presenting evidence on what caused their injuries.

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