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.

A medical malpractice case in Washington, D.C. generally must be filed within three years of the accrual of the cause of action. Under D.C. law, the cause of action accrues, and the statute of limitations begins to run, not when the injury occurs but when the plaintiff knows of the injury or should know of the injury through the exercise of due diligence. A recent decision from a state appeals court illustrates the potential complexities involved in determining when a plaintiff knew or should have known of an injury.

In that case, when the plaintiffs’ minor son was born in September 2009, the parents were told that the baby suffered from an infection, and he remained in the hospital for 10 days after his birth. When the baby was discharged, the mother was told that the baby was healthy and normal. However, she soon began noticing that he was not meeting certain developmental milestones. In April 2010, a CT scan showed that the baby had suffered a fractured skull injury. Almost two years afterward, the baby was diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy. The mother was told that this type of cerebral palsy is usually caused by a lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain during labor and delivery. The parents filed the complaint in November 2013, claiming that the son’s neurological injury was caused by improper care by the hospital and medical professionals at the hospital.

The defendants claimed that the case was barred by the statute of limitations. Under applicable state law, the claim had to be filed within two years of the time when the incident was discovered or should have been discovered with due diligence. The parents argued that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until November 2012, when the parents were informed that the spastic cerebral palsy might have been related to the delivery. The defendants argued that the statute of limitations began to run in May 2010, when the family should have discovered that medical negligence had occurred. The family met with an attorney at the time, who requested the baby’s medical records. A trial court agreed with the defendants and dismissed the case, and the parents appealed.

The law allows people injured in an accident to bring a civil negligence lawsuit against the responsible party. There are, however, some key exceptions that Washington, D.C. personal injury plaintiffs ought to understand when preparing to file a lawsuit. One of the most important is sovereign immunity, also known as governmental immunity.

The basic idea behind sovereign immunity is that states and governments are protected from negligence lawsuits arising out of their official duties. For D.C. plaintiffs, this means that there are some instances in which, when the government is responsible for their injuries, a plaintiff will not have legal recourse to recover compensation.

A recent Virginia appellate case illustrates the importance of sovereign immunity. According to the court’s written opinion, the case arose as a wrongful death lawsuit against the city for failing to adequately maintain fire hydrants. The deceased victim was killed in a fire when the firefighters, unable to get the needed water from the fire hydrant closest to the burning house, had to go to the next closest hydrant. This second fire hydrant was around 1,000 feet away, and by the time that the firefighters were able to get the necessary water, the victim had died.

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 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.

Distracted driving, particularly from texting while driving, is a major cause of Washington, D.C. car accidents. Although texting while driving has been illegal in D.C. since 2004 when the city passed The Distracted Driving Safety Act, far too many individuals still text and drive, endangering not only themselves but everyone else on the roads with them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that, every day in the United States, approximately nine people are killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, and over 1,000 are injured. Texting while driving is one of the most common forms of distracted driving and has become more and more of an issue over the past decade as cellphones and other mobile devices become more commonplace.

A recent New York Times article highlights the dangers of texting and driving, as well as the difficulty securing criminal convictions when serious accidents occur. According to the article, a pedestrian was killed when the allegedly distracted driver rear-ended a second vehicle, which then hit the victim, who was on a walk. Prosecutors claimed that the first driver had been texting at the time of the crash, as evidenced by the unfinished text message on her phone.

The tragic case illustrates the dangers posed by texting while driving. A momentary distraction, causing a driver to glance away from the road, can quickly turn into a tragedy, injuring other drivers and pedestrians alike. Washington, D.C., like most other states, has laws prohibiting texting and driving, meaning that distracted drivers causing a crash may be prosecuted through the criminal justice system. However, according to a spokeswoman for the national Governors Highway Safety Association, prosecutions can be challenging, because of difficulties obtaining evidence proving that a driver was distracted. And even when prosecutions are successful, the criminal charges do very little to help the victims, if they survived, or their family members.

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.

Washington D.C. product liability lawsuits typically arise after someone is injured or killed because a product is defectively designed, manufactured, or lacks the appropriate warnings. Washington D.C. product liability laws encourage companies to act responsibly when releasing their products into the stream of commerce. Companies who fail to abide by safety regulations and rules may face liability for the injuries their product caused.

A product may be defective when it is capable of inflicting significant harm to a consumer. Washington D.C. injury victims may face difficulties establishing that a product is faulty, depending on the complexity and specific deficiency of the product. Design defect claims arise when the product is inherently dangerous based on its design. Manufacturing claims occur when the product has an appropriate design, but is defective because of a manufacturing error. Finally, defective warning claims arise when someone is injured because the product lacked adequate warnings. Product liability lawsuits are commonly brought based on defective pharmaceuticals, appliances, motor vehicles, toys, medical devices, and dangerous chemicals.

For example, recently, a national news report described a disastrous chemical explosion at a popular chain restaurant. A toxic mixture of cleaning agents led to the death of the restaurant’s general manager and the hospitalization of several patrons. The incident occurred after an employee mixed a bleach cleaner and detergent to clean the kitchen floor. The combination of the products resulted in lethal fumes. The cleanser is a popular restaurant and food service cleaning agent. The detergent’s information sheet indicates that it is not compatible with strong acids. However, an investigation into the incident and the product is still ongoing as the community copes with the tragic accident.

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.

Bringing a claim against the federal government complicates what may seem like a simple Washington, D.C. (D.C.) personal injury case. If the federal government is a defendant in a D.C. personal injury case, it will almost always argue that it is protected from suit for claims brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).

The Federal Tort Claims Act allows individuals to file claims against the federal government and its agencies for certain wrongful conduct committed by federal officials. In an FTCA claim, a plaintiff must show that their injury was caused by a federal employee, that the employee was acting within the scope of his employment, that the employee acted wrongfully, and that the act caused the plaintiff’s damages.

Certain claims can be barred, depending on the nature of the act. If a claim is based on the act or failure to act in a discretionary function or duty, the claim is barred. Determining whether an act was a discretionary function or duty requires a determination first of whether the actions involved an element of judgment or choice. If so, the second determination is whether the judgment is one that the discretionary function was intended to protect, as a decision based on public policy considerations. It is only if both determinations are answered affirmatively that an act would fall under the discretionary function, and the government would be protected from suit. If the government claims that it is immune from suit under the FTCA, the government has to prove that an exception applies

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