Articles Posted in Personal Injury

If you were injured recently in an accident because of another party’s negligence, recklessness, or carelessness, you may have grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit to recover compensation against them. Before you proceed, however, it is crucial that you understand the basic elements of a Washington, D.C. personal injury lawsuit—namely, how fault is allocated between the parties and how it will affect the success of your claim.

According to a recent local news report, at least four people were injured after a vehicle crashed into a hotel lobby in northwest Washington, D.C. Local authorities reported that the accident took place mid-morning when a vehicle drove into the lobby through the glass façade of the Yotel hotel on New Jersey Avenue. Although there were no structural integrity issues observed in the hotel building following the accident, four patients were transported to local hospitals for treatment of their injuries, with at least one of them suffering from serious injuries. A separate individual was also treated on the scene for minor injuries but declined to be transported to the hospital. The accident remains under investigation as the immediate cause of the crash into the hotel is unknown.

How is fault determined in Washington, D.C. personal injury lawsuits?

Washington, D.C., like other parts of the United States, has unique laws and rules governing personal injury claims. Although specific differences such as the time available for a statute of limitations or the elements required to successfully file your initial personal injury claim are important, understanding the fault rules in D.C. could provide you with a clearer picture of the potential success of your claim—and whether you should bring a lawsuit at all. Washington, D.C. follows a fault framework called the “contributory fault” rule for claims that involve personal injury cases. This means that if an injured person is found to have shared fault or contributed to the accident taking place in any way, they will be prevented from recovering compensation against the at-fault party entirely.

When someone is injured in a car accident, the law allows them to bring suit against the responsible party and recover compensation for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other forms of damages. In order to do so, the plaintiff must first prove that the accident was the defendant’s fault, and then the plaintiff must present detailed evidence proving the resulting damages. Doing this on your own is usually impracticable, so Washington, D.C. plaintiffs will usually attempt to bring in expert witnesses to testify regarding the accident.

Expert witnesses differ significantly from eyewitnesses. Eyewitnesses are those who actually saw an accident occur. In contrast, expert witnesses did not see the accident, but they have a certain expertise that can help a judge or jury understand how the accident happened, how severe the injuries are, the issues that the injuries might cause in the future, and other relevant information. Washington, D.C. plaintiffs may want to bring in a variety of expert witnesses to assist with their claims, including medical experts to testify about the injuries suffered, accident reconstruction specialists who can explain who was at fault for the accident, and accountants or economic specialists to help calculate the damages that the plaintiffs suffered. Since car accidents and the resulting injuries can be very complicated, expert witnesses provide a lot of value to a court in deciding a personal injury claim.

Different states follow different rules for when an expert’s testimony will be admissible and considered in court. Until 2016, Washington, D.C. courts generally allowed expert evidence to be considered when the methods used by the expert were generally accepted by the scientific community. This standard was relatively relaxed, and plaintiffs were less likely to have their expert witness’ testimony blocked. However, in 2016, the D.C. Court of Appeals changed the standard to a stricter one, commonly called the Daubert standard because it first appeared in a case by the same name. The Daubert standard asks judges to thoroughly consider the expert witness’ testimony and make sure that the opinion is based on scientifically valid methodology, considering test results, error rates, peer reviews, relevant standards, and acceptance in the scientific community. Judges are more likely to rule testimony inadmissible under this standard. As a result, plaintiffs may have to work harder to ensure that their expert witness’ testimony is accepted.

One of the first major decisions that a Washington, D.C. personal injury victim must come to is where to file their case. A court can only hear a lawsuit if it has jurisdiction to do so. There are two types of jurisdiction, personal and subject-matter. Subject-matter jurisdiction refers to the court’s ability to hear the specific kind of claim being brought by the plaintiff. Personal jurisdiction refers to whether a court has the power to issue a binding declaration against a party.

Establishing jurisdiction over a plaintiff is generally easy, because the plaintiff consents to jurisdiction by filing a claim with the court. However, determining which courts have jurisdiction over a defendant can be tricky. In Washington, D.C., the general rule is that a court has jurisdiction over a party if the party resides or does business in that state. Thus, if a Washington, D.C. resident causes an accident in Delaware that injures a Maryland plaintiff, the plaintiff could file the claim in Washington, D.C. because that is where the defendant resides.

Other Ways to Establish a Court’s Jurisdiction

Often, filing a claim where the defendant resides is not preferable for a plaintiff. It may be that the law in the state where the defendant lives is unfavorable to the plaintiff’s claim or that the plaintiff wants to litigate the case close to their home. In any event, a plaintiff may be able to file a lawsuit in another state if they can establish that the state has jurisdiction.

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In many Washington, D.C. personal injury cases, one or more of the parties involved present the testimony of an expert witness. As a general matter, expert testimony is necessary when certain issues in the case are beyond the common understanding of the jurors. However, jurisdictions vary widely on how they determine whether a specific expert’s testimony is admissible.

Most states apply either the Frye standard or the Daubert standard. These names come from the cases in which the doctrine was first applied. The differences between the two standards are complex, but as a general rule the Frye standard is more permissible and allows expert evidence to be considered if the methods used by the expert in reaching their conclusion were “generally accepted by the scientific community.”

The Daubert standard is more stringent, and puts the judge in the place of a gatekeeper of sorts. Under the Daubert standard, the proponent of the evidence must establish that the expert’s opinion is based on scientifically valid methodology. In making this determination, courts consider:

  • Whether the expert’s technique can be and has been tested;
  • Whether the proposed theory has been peer-reviewed;
  • The method’s error rate, if it is known;
  • The existence and maintenance of standards; and
  • Whether the methodology has accepted widespread acceptance in the scientific community.

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In many personal injury and medical malpractice cases, the bulk of the litigation actually occurs before a case reaches the trial phase. Much of this pre-trial litigation occurs over discovery-related matters, when the parties essentially argue over which evidence will be considered at trial and which evidence should be kept out. After the evidentiary issues have been resolved, either party is free to move for summary judgment based on the evidence presented to the court thus far in the proceeding.

In Washington, D.C., the Rules of Civil Procedure explain that summary judgment is appropriate when “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Simply put, this means that the party filing for summary judgment is claiming that the other party cannot win the case, even if the court resolves all issues in their favor. The credibility of a witness or document is not at issue in a summary judgment proceeding.

Of course, if the evidence does present an issue of material fact, the moving party cannot legally be entitled to summary judgment, since that issue must be resolved by a fact-finder (either by a judge or jury) at a trial. A recent medical malpractice case out of Indiana illustrates the point well.

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Earlier this month in Hagerstown, Maryland, local businessman Leonard B. Robinson died in a fatal car accident. According to a local news report, Robinson was known to many as the “Route 29 Batman” because he drove a tricked-out Lamborghini that was made to look like the Batmobile. Prior to passing, he would dress up as the Dark Knight and visit sick children in area hospitals. He would bring them toys and books, and encourage them to be strong in the face of their illnesses.

Evidently, Robinson was on his way home from a car show when his vehicle broke down on Interstate 70, near Hagerstown, and he was forced to pull off the road. However, according to witness accounts, it seems as though the Lamborghini was not completely off the road, and it may have been partially in the eastbound passing lane. As fate would have it, a passing Toyota Corolla collided with the Batmobile, sending it into Robinson, who was standing a few feet in front of his vehicle. Robinson was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident by emergency responders. Police are still in the middle of an investigation.

Robinson became well known after a police dash-cam video of him getting pulled over in the Batmobile surfaced a few years back. The exchange between the Dark Knight and the police was a unique one, with the officers clearly intrigued and confused by the man whom they pulled over for having an invalid license plate. Apparently, the plate on the Lamborghini only had a bat symbol on it.

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Earlier this month, a former football player for the University of California, Berkeley, has filed suit against the regents of the University, as well as several others, seeking damages for the long-term injuries he sustained as a result of his participation in the school’s football program. According to a local California news report, Bernard Hicks played in the position of safety for the Golden Bears for a period of about four years between 2004 and 2008. In all, Hicks played 32 games with the team.

Evidently, during his tenure with the team, Hicks suffered numerous concussions during both games and practices. After leaving the team in 2008, Hicks alleges that he suffered from permanent and debilitating injuries, including depression, suicidal thoughts, memory loss, and problems with his vision.

The lawsuit, which also names the school’s head coach and athletic trainer, claims that the school should have been more proactive in educating the players regarding the long-term risks of neurological damage associated with participating in a high-impact sport such as football. Hicks claims that, had he been properly educated about the risks involved, he would have not participated or at least taken off more time in between games to allow himself to heal.

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Earlier last year and throughout this year, the NFL has been involved in a lawsuit brought by a number of former players alleging that the league failed to take adequate precautions to protect the players from concussions and related head injuries. According to one news source, recently a group of NHL players have piggy-backed on that same idea and have filed a lawsuit against the NHL making similar allegations.

The lawsuit specifically alleges that the NHL withheld information about the long-term effects of the head injuries that can occur from playing in the NHL. Originating back in early 2014, the NHL concussion lawsuit has recently been picking up steam with the publicity surrounding the NFL litigation. In fact, just recently 29 former players joined the lawsuit.

Like many deceased players formerly in the NFL, it is surmised that several NHL players have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is a disease of the brain that can only be diagnosed post-mortem. Consistent with a CTE diagnosis, the lawsuit points to several players who died at young ages from suicide.

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Back in June 2012, a lawsuit was filed against the NFL by a group of almost 2,000 players, alleging that the league failed to inform players of the link between concussions and brain injuries. Back in August of last year, the group of players—that had at that point reached 4,500 in number—came to an agreement with league officials.

Under the terms of that deal, the group of players would receive $765 million to help pay for medical exams, concussion-related compensation, medical research for retired NFL players and their families, and litigation expenses. However, the judge assigned to the case declined to approve the settlement, holding that she didn’t think it was enough money.

According to a recent article by USA Today, the federal judge overseeing the case is again reviewing a potential deal between the players and the league. This time, the proposed settlement would provide for up to $4 million for the families of players who were diagnosed after their death with the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy. In addition, the proposed settlement would provide between $1.5 million and $3 million to players who are alive and suffering from various brain-related disorders, including dementia.

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In Washington DC, the current state of the law prevents any accident victim from recovering for his or her injuries if he or she is found to be at all at fault for the accident resulting in his or her injuries. This means that even if an accident victim is found to be just 1% at fault, the law in Washington DC would prevent him or her from recovering from a defendant who was 99% at fault. This is the law of contributory negligence.

However, according to a recent article by the Washington Post, there is a new bill pending in the legislature that would shift the current contributory-negligence scheme to a comparative-fault system. As of right now, Washington DC is one of only a handful of jurisdictions that uses a comparative-fault system. Most other states have moved away from the strict system in recent years.

Under comparative fault, an accident victim’s damages get reduced by the percent that he or she is found to be at fault for the accident. For example, if an accident victim is found to be 5% at fault, and the jury determines that the damages should be $1,000,000, the plaintiff’s total damages would be reduced by 5%, or $50,000. That would leave the plaintiff with a total recovery amount of $950,000 under a comparative-fault system. Under a contributory-negligence system, however, the plaintiff would recover nothing.

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