When someone is killed in an accident, the law allows their family or estate to file a Washington, D.C. wrongful death lawsuit against the individual who caused their death—such as a negligent driver in a car crash. If successful, these lawsuits can result in damages to cover medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, and, importantly, pain and suffering experienced by the deceased before their death. Sometimes, there are questions about what evidence can be introduced to prove pain and suffering in this case.

For example, take a recent state appellate case. The facts of the case are undeniably tragic: a couple was driving along the highway when the defendant, in a pickup truck, crossed the median and hit them. The couple, husband and wife, both died as a result of the collision. Their three-year-old daughter, who was also in the vehicle, survived.

The deceased wife’s mother filed suit against the defendant. At trial, the jury awarded her $3 million. The defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by admitting irrelevant evidence at trial. At trial, the issue to be decided was the deceased wife’s conscious pain and suffering. The plaintiffs presented evidence that she was pregnant at the time of the collision. When the collision happened, she was on the telephone with her mother, telling her about the appointment confirming her pregnancy. The mother, the plaintiff in this case, then heard her daughter scream, “oh my god, look at that,” and then heard her scream her husband’s name, followed by the crash itself. The court held that evidence regarding her state of mind—including the fact that she was pregnant—had relevance to her fright, shock, and mental suffering before the collision.

Although Washington, D.C. landlords are responsible for maintaining their properties, D.C. law generally allows landlords to relieve themselves of liability for negligence through an agreement between the landlord and the tenant. If the parties clearly agreed to release liability, the court will generally uphold the agreement. However, Washington, D.C. courts have made it clear that exculpatory clauses in agreements are only construed to limit liability for negligence if the language in the lease clarifies that it was the intended effect. However, an agreement will not be enforced in cases of gross negligence, willful acts, or fraud. In addition, the agreement must apply and be intended to apply to the premises in question.

Under Washington, D.C. law, a landlord who has exclusive control of a building in which there are leased premises must exercise reasonable and ordinary care in managing that portion of the premises under the landlord’s exclusive control (such as a common hallway or bathroom). In the portions under the landlord’s exclusive control, the landlord is generally still liable for injuries because of a defective condition that the landlord fails to address.

In a recent case before one state appeals court, the court considered whether the landlord could be relieved of liability due to an exculpatory clause contained in the lease. The plaintiff in the case hit his head on a beam in the doorway, causing him to fall down the stairs. The plaintiff was the tenant in a commercial lease with the building owner. The plaintiff claimed that his fall was caused by the inherently dangerous condition of the staircase because the location of the beam was in violation of numerous building codes. In the lease, there was an exculpatory clause that stated that the lessor was not liable for personal injury to the lessee and others “whether the said injury . . . results from conditions arising upon the Premises or upon other portions of the Building, or from other sources or places.” The plaintiff filed a claim against the lessor for negligence and premises liability.

A product recall is not required for a viable Washington, D.C. product liability claim, just as a product recall does not automatically mean that a consumer has a viable Washington, D.C. product liability claim. However, if a product is recalled, it is a sign that a product is not safe. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) investigates injuries associated with consumer products. The CPSC can issue a voluntary recall notice or a mandatory recall notice, depending on the nature of the defect.

Although a consumer of a recalled product may be able to have the product refunded or replaced pursuant to a recall, the consumer must have been injured by the defective product in order to file a product liability claim. A plaintiff in a product liability case in Washington, D.C. must establish that the defendant manufacturer, distributor, or retailer is liable for the injuries caused by the defendant’s defective product. In a strict liability claim, this generally means proving that the seller was engaged in the business of selling the defective product, that the seller expected the product to reach the consumer, that the product was defective and unreasonably dangerous when it was sold, that the product was not substantially changed when it reached the consumer, and that the defect in the product caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

Crockpots Recalled After Burn Injuries

One company is recalling almost a million crockpots sold by various retailers after consumers reported burns after the lids on the crockpots blew off. According to one news source, around 100 consumers were burned after the lids blew off the crockpots while they were in use, spewing hot food and liquid. The crockpots were able to pressurize even though the lid was not fully locked, causing the lid to blow off while it was being used. There were 119 reports of lids detaching, causing a reported 99 injuries. Some consumers suffered serious injuries, including third-degree burns.

Continue reading ›

As a major city and the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. has many different vehicles within it at a given time. From cars to trucks, to motorcycles, school buses, bicycles, and more, there is no shortage of vehicles and forms of transportation for individuals to get around the city. But tragically, each of these forms of transportation presents the risk of a Washington, D.C. motor vehicle accident. While accidents can sometimes be no big deal, they more often cause serious injury or even death.

One vehicle that may be seen around Washington, D.C., especially during times of celebration, is limousines. But limousines can be prone to some scary and fatal accidents. Recently, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) published findings regarding a serious 2018 crash. According to the NTSB, the crash occurred on October 6, 2018, around 1:55 PM. A stretch limousine operated by a limousine and chauffeur service was traveling south, driven by a 53-year-old man. Seventeen passengers were in the limousine. Unfortunately, while traveling down a hill, the brakes of the limousine failed, and the vehicle’s speed increased to over 100 miles an hour. To avoid a car stopped at an intersection ahead of them, the driver steered the vehicle away and ended up running a stop sign and entering a driveway of a restaurant parking lot. At this point, it hit an unoccupied 2015 Toyota SUV parked in a grassy field adjacent to the driveway. The impact of the crash pushed the SUV forward, striking and killing two pedestrians. But the limousine did not stop—it continued across the edge of the driveway and into a ravine, where it struck an embankment and several trees. All 18 people in the limousine were tragically killed.

The NTSB investigated this tragic crash, attempting to determine the probable cause. It ultimately concluded that the limousine and chauffeur service egregiously disregarded passengers’ safety and was reckless by dispatching a stretch limousine with an out-of-service order for a passenger charter trip. As it turns out, the company knew of the issues with the brake system but sent the vehicle out anyway. This case is an example of one set of facts that may lead to a Washington, D.C. negligence lawsuit. The deceased victims’ families may be able to file a wrongful death suit against the negligent limousine and chauffeur service. If successful, a personal injury lawsuit may be able to help the family recover for their medical bills, funeral and burial costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

In this blog, we often write about a specific type of Washington, D.C. personal injury lawsuit: premise’s liability claims. The premise’s liability doctrine is used to hold property or business owners responsible for accidents on their property. For example, grocery stores that fail to warn customers of slippery floors can be held liable, or homeowners who invite visitors over who are injured on faulty stairs. This is an important doctrine; however, it is not without limits. In some cases, an individual might sign a waiver of liability, releasing a property or business owner from liability if they are injured.

For example, take a recent state appellate court case. The court’s written opinion indicates that in April of 2017, the plaintiff decided to join a gym. In executing her membership agreement, she signed a form that states, in part, “I understand and voluntarily accept full responsibility … for the risk of injury or loss arising out of or related to my use … of the facilities,” and “I further agree that [the defendant] … will not be liable for any injury … resulting from the negligent conduct or omission of [the defendant].” In September of that year, the plaintiff visited the gym and exercised on a treadmill. After her workout, she walked towards a trash bin to dispose of the towel she used to wipe down the equipment, but she tripped and fell on an uneven walkway and broke her wrist.

The plaintiff brought a premises liability claim against the defendant, her gym, alleging that they were negligent in maintaining the facility. The defendant moved for summary judgment, which the court granted due to the waiver agreement the plaintiff signed. The plaintiff appealed. On appeal, she argued that the trial court erred in enforcing the waiver because her injury was not connected to actually exercising or using the gym, but happened as she was walking. The court disagreed, noting that the plaintiff fell right after working out, while walking to throw away the towel she had used to clean the treadmill. For the court, the plaintiff’s injury was sufficiently connected to her use of the gym and was covered by the waiver of liability that the plaintiff signed. As such, her lawsuit against the gym could not move forward, and summary judgment was granted in favor of the defendant.

If an individual is injured in the District of Columbia and the local government may be at fault, a plaintiff will likely have to deal with the issue of governmental immunity. Under Washington, D.C. law, the municipal government may be immune from a civil lawsuit depending on the nature of the act. In Washington, D.C., the local government and its employees and agents are immune from suit depending on whether the act is discretionary or ministerial. The government is immune based upon its discretionary actions, but not immune from suit based upon its ministerial actions. Generally, a discretionary act is one that involved deliberation, decision, and judgment. A ministerial act is generally confined to following orders or performing a duty in which the employee has little choice. Whether an action is discretionary or ministerial often depends on the specific facts and circumstances of the case.

Local government employees also generally are protected under governmental immunity for their actions. They generally are protected as long as they are acting within their official capacity and within the scope of their employment and if they do not act with gross negligence. An individual may also act as an agent of a government entity, depending on the facts of the case.

Court Dismisses Medical Malpractice Suit Against University Based on Immunity

In a recent case before one state appeals court, that court considered whether a university was entitled to immunity after a doctor was sued at an affiliated hospital. In that case, the patient sought treatment from the doctor at his office at the hospital. The university provided healthcare services at that teaching hospital. The doctor was an employee of the university and made an agreement to provide care to patients at the hospital. The patient claimed that the doctor failed to prescribe anti-coagulants to the patient, which resulted in disabilities. The patient claimed that the hospital and the university were liable for the doctor’s actions as an agent of the university.

Continue reading ›

In a Washington, D.C. product liability case, a plaintiff must prove that a defendant is responsible for harm to the plaintiff caused by the defendant’s product. Different parties in the chain of production may be liable for a harmful product, including a manufacturer and a retail store owner. A products liability case is based on strict liability, meaning that the defendant is strictly liable as long as there is a defect. In a Washington, D.C. strict liability case, a plaintiff has to show: that the seller engaged in the business of selling the product at issue; that the product was defective and unreasonably dangerous when it was sold to the consumer; that the seller expected to reach and the product reached the consumer without any substantial change in the product’s condition; and that the defect directly and proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

In general, there are two tests often used to determine if a product’s design was defective. The first is the consumer-expectations test. Under the consumer-expectations test, the relevant question is whether a product failed to perform in the manner that the ordinary consumer would reasonably expect when used in an intended or reasonably foreseeable manner. The second test is the risk-utility test. Under the risk-utility test, the question is whether the product’s inherent risk of harm outweighed the product’s utility. Potentially, either the consumer-expectation test or the risk-utility test may apply in a Washington, D.C. injury case, depending on the facts of the case.

A federal appeals court recently upheld a product liability award of $4,050,000 after the man was injured by an unguarded blade on a meat saw at work. The plaintiff was the manager of a meat market at a supermarket. He was cutting meat and cut through his arm after he was called away and forgot to put on the meat saw’s blade guard. When he had returned to the saw, he did not realize that the saw was active and unguarded and reached for a box cutter, making contact with the active blade. He had to have his arm amputated as a result.

In cases where it is difficult to determine who was to blame for an accident, the plaintiff’s role in the accident may be central to the case. This is because under Washington, D.C. law, according to the doctrine of contributory negligence, the plaintiff can be barred from recovery even if the plaintiff was only partially at fault for their own injuries. An example of a recent Washington, D.C. tragic car accident involving a potentially complicated legal scenario was reported on by one news source. According to the report, a man was tragically killed on a recent Sunday morning while he was putting gas in his car on the shoulder of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. The crash occurred around three o’clock in the morning. The man died on the scene and the crash is still being investigated.

Liability in a crash like this can be tricky to sort out. Failing to notice or avoid a person standing on a shoulder of the highway indicates some liability on the part of the driver. However, if the victim was filling up his car in a poorly lit area, perhaps in a location that was hard to see from far away, he may have had some fault in causing the accident as well. In a car accident case involving the violation of a traffic regulation, there is a presumption of negligence for a violation, which can be rebutted by showing that the person did everything that a reasonable person who tried to follow the law would do.

Washington, D.C. follows the doctrine of pure contributory negligence, which means that if the plaintiff is found to be even partially at fault for their injuries, contributory negligence acts as a complete bar to recovery. To assert a contributory negligence defense, a party has to prove that the plaintiff failed to exercise reasonable care and that the failure was a substantial factor in causing the injury. A party asserting a contributory negligence defense must prove it by a “preponderance of the evidence” standard.

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.

Purchasing car insurance is a good idea for all Washington, D.C. residents who drive—whether it be to work every day or just for errands occasionally. Whilst most car trips conclude without incident, Washington, D.C. car accidents do occur every day and can cause severe injuries in the blink of an eye. If a Washington, D.C. resident is involved in a car accident, they may rely on their insurance to cover the resulting costs, to ensure that they do not go into debt as a result.

However, it is important for all Washington, D.C. drivers to remember that having insurance does not necessarily mean you are covered in all circumstances, no matter what. Some insurance policies may have specific rules or procedures that drivers must follow if they hope to collect under their policy. For instance, some have “notice provisions,” which require a driver to notify the insurance company about an accident and resulting injuries and treatment to recover under the policy.

A recent state appellate court case, resulting from a car accident, provides an example of how these notice provisions work. According to the court’s written opinion, the accident occurred in August 2016, when the plaintiff was rear-ended while stopped at an intersection. After the collision, the plaintiff went that same day to a doctor’s office. The doctor examined her and x-rayed her neck, and then told her that she had whiplash. Almost two years later, in March of 2018, the plaintiff had surgery on her neck. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff was insured by the defendant in the case, a well-known insurance company. Her policy stated that, to make the specific type of claim involved in this case, she must notify the insurance company of the claim and give them all of the details about the death, injury, treatment, and other information the company may need as soon as reasonably possible. The policy then stated that legal action could not be taken against the defendant insurance company unless the insured complied with the policy’s provisions.

Contact Information