Washington D.C. encompasses many properties open to the public for recreational use and amusement. While government officials, business owners, and managers take steps to ensure the health and safety of visitors, accidents can happen. Those who suffer injuries at a Washington D.C. park, national monument, museum, arboretum, or similar location should contact an attorney to discuss their rights and remedies.

Generally, government agencies and private property owners maintain a legal duty to make their properties safe from unreasonable risk of harm to visitors and guests. When a property owner fails to ensure the safety of their premises, visitors may face serious injuries. These injuries may stem from icy pathways, uneven surfaces, inadequate or nonexistent security, toxin exposure, and broken steps or handrails. Despite the public policy reasons surrounding the duty to maintain a safe environment, cases involving public properties pose significant burdens on injury victims.

The law imposes different rules on injury victims who wish to pursue personal injury claims against a government agency. To further add to the challenges many injury victims face, the law provides recreational use property owners with certain protections. A recent federal court decision addressed an issue that many premises liability victims encounter when pursuing a claim against an outdoor recreation area owner. In that case, the government maintained a public shower at a beach. According to the record, the government allowed an algae film to develop on the shower floor and did not provide any warning of the film. A couple sued the government for injuries after the husband fell on the shower floor and suffered severe injuries.

Expert witness testimony is one of the most critical forms of evidence in a Washington, D.C. medical malpractice claim. An expert witness’s purpose is to aid the court or jury in understanding medical evidence or medical facts that are at issue in the case. Generally, both parties call expert witnesses to bolster their claims or defenses. Expert testimony is typically essential in Washington D.C. medical malpractice lawsuits, as such injury victims should consult with an attorney to ensure that they have access to the most appropriate experts.

In 2016, Washington D.C adopted the Daubert standard under the Federal Rules of Evidence 702. Under Rule 702, the court can qualify an expert as a witness if they exhibit the knowledge, skills, experience, training, or education in the relevant field. Expert testimony is appropriate if:

  • The expert’s scientific, technician, or specialized knowledge will aid the fact finder to understand issues or determine facts;

After a person encounters a defective or dangerous product, they may suffer serious physical injuries, property damage, and psychological trauma. The long-standing effects of these accidents may result in significant medical expenses, lost wages, and similar financial difficulties. Those who suffer injuries because of a defective product should contact a Washington, D.C. product liability attorney to discuss their rights and remedies.

Product liability broadly refers to the legal responsibility of those that are in the chain of design, production, or distribution of a product. While most Washington, D.C. product liability claims fall under the theory of strict liability, some involve general negligence theories and breach of warranty claims. Negligence cases usually involve allegations of a product’s defective design, manufacturing defect, or failure to warn. In contrast, strict liability claims do not require a plaintiff to establish that a manufacturer or seller was negligent. Instead, these claims hinge on the unreasonably dangerous or defective nature of the products. Proving an item was “unreasonably dangerous” requires a thorough and nuanced understanding of complex product liability laws.

For instance, a recent appellate court opinion addressed whether a plaintiff presented legally sufficient evidence to support their design defect claim. The case arose after an HVAC technician purchased an installed air conditioning unit compressor that became overheated and ignited the technician in flames. The technician filed a lawsuit against the product manufacturer, arguing that the terminal they used in the unit was unreasonably dangerous. In support of this claim, he asserted that parts manufacturers made two parts for the same cost, but the older design was more prone to failure. The technician claimed that the company’s decision to use the older design created an unreasonably dangerous product. A jury found in favor of the plaintiff, and after analyzing a series of complex evidentiary and legal arguments, the court ultimately affirmed the lower court’s ruling in favor of the plaintiff.

Causation is an essential element in any Washington, D.C., negligence claim. This means that a successful plaintiff in a Washington, D.C. personal injury claim has to show that the defendant’s negligent actions were the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The plaintiff has the burden of proving a causal relationship between the defendant’s actions and the plaintiff’s injuries. Proving causation means proving that there was “a direct and substantial causal relationship” between the defendant’s actions and the plaintiff’s injuries and that the harm was foreseeable. Proximate cause also involves considering the foreseeability of the harm that occurred and the scope of the risk created by the defendant’s actions. It aims to limit liability in circumstances where the link between the conduct and resulting harm is so attenuated that the consequence is pure luck. It is meant to limit liability in those cases where holding the defendant labile would be unfair or bad policy.

A plaintiff can prove causation by providing either direct or circumstantial evidence. Generally, proximate cause is a question of fact that must be resolved by the jury. The standard for proving causation, like other elements in a negligence claim, is whether it is more likely than not to have been the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. A plaintiff cannot simply show that it is a mere possibility that the defendant’s actions caused the plaintiff’s injuries. This means that in a Washington, D.C. injury claim, a plaintiff must point to the specific acts that the plaintiff claims were negligent and demonstrate how those specific acts, more likely than not, were the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. In accident cases involving multiple vehicles, proving causation can be more difficult.

Bicyclist killed in multi-vehicle crash in Northwest D.C.

In a Washington, D.C. car crash case requiring a court to interpret a contract, general contract principles must be applied. Under Washington, D.C. law, courts will look at the contract’s written language, regardless of the parties’ intent at the time the contract was made. If a contract is not clear based on the contract’s written language, courts will consider the contract as a whole and will determine the meaning of the contract and its terms based on all of the surrounding circumstances when the contract was made. In considering the surrounding circumstances, courts will allow external evidence to be admitted to help explain and determine the parties’ beliefs and actions at the time. Courts will generally consider what a reasonable person in the parties’ positions would have thought the terms in dispute meant—unless the terms clearly had a technical or specialized meaning. In addition, if the language of a contract is open to two interpretations, courts will interpret the contract in favor of the insured.

Insurance policies also may contain exclusions, but exclusions must be strictly construed in favor of the insured. Further, if an insurer tries to avoid liability under an insurance policy by claiming that an exclusionary clause applies, the insurer has the burden to prove that the case falls under the specified exclusion.

In a recent case before another state’s appeals court, the court considered whether an exclusionary clause in a contract relieved the insurer after a woman was killed in a car crash. In that case, the woman was killed in a crash with another vehicle driven by a volunteer employee working for an animal welfare organization. GEICO provided personal vehicle insurance to the volunteer employee and paid out up to its policy limit of $25,000. The organization also had a commercial insurance policy with a policy limit of $1,000,000. The woman’s estate obtained a judgment against the organization of $5,000,000 and filed a claim under the commercial insurance policy. The insurer denied coverage, asserting that the coverage did not apply because the GEICO policy covered the crash.

Presenting strong expert witness testimony is essential in many Washington, D.C. injury cases. But before the testimony can be considered, it must be admissible under evidentiary rules. In 2016, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals issued a decision adopting Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and the Daubert test articulated in the Supreme Court case Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). The Daubert standard now applies in all civil and criminal cases in Washington, D.C. and focuses on the relevance and reliability of the evidence.

Under Rule 702, a witness who is qualified to testify as an expert based on knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify if:

  1. The testimony will be helpful in order to understand the evidence or determine a fact at issue;
  2. The testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
  3. The testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
  4. The expert witness reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

In a recent case before a federal appeals court, the court excluded expert testimony in a personal injury case, finding that the testimony was not reliable. In that case, the plaintiff severely injured his right leg, foot, and ankle when a skid-steer loader he was operating at work tipped over. When it began to tip forward, the plaintiff braced his right foot near the front opening. His foot slipped out the front and he brought the lift down on it, crushing his foot. He and his wife filed a strict liability claim against the manufacturer alleging that the machine was defectively designed.

Continue reading ›

Self-driving cars were introduced several years ago, but as crashes continue to occur, they raise safety concerns for everyone on the road. Many say that self-driving cars employ safety features that make them safer than other cars and that drivers are cautioned to keep their eyes on the road. However, others say these vehicles are ripe for misuse and multiple crashes seem to support the fact that they present unique safety issues. Victims of a Washington, D.C. car accident involving a self-driving car or a negligent driver may be able to recover compensation from the driver or other entities at fault, as discussed further below.

A recent Tesla crash in Detroit has raised questions about the safety of the vehicle after multiple incidents, as one news source reported. In 2016, a man died in a crash in Florida when the vehicle was on Autopilot and failed to recognize the trailer of a truck crossing the highway. In 2019, another Tesla similarly crashed into a tractor-trailer when Autopilot was engaged. The recent incident in Detroit also involved a Tesla that crashed into the trailer of a truck. The company has not reported whether the vehicle was using Autopilot at the time. As in the 2016 accident, the Tesla drove under the tractor-trailer and tore off the roof of the car. The driver and the passenger suffered serious injuries in the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident, as well as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA reported that it was investigating 23 similar crashes.

The Autopilot system uses radar and cameras to detect vehicles and objects in the road and can steer, accelerate, and brake automatically. The company maintains that drivers are supposed to pay close attention to the road when using Autopilot and should be ready to take control of the car. Yet, critics say that the company lacks safeguards to prevent drivers from misusing the system. Another vehicle with similar features switches off the autopilot when the driver looks away from the road and can only be used on major highways.

Sometimes, in the aftermath of Washington, D.C. car accidents, it is very clear what happened and who was at fault. But just as often, it is unclear what led to the accident. In some situations, it may be extremely difficult to figure out what happened and why. This is especially the case when the people involved in the accident passed away due to their injuries. In these circumstances, the family may be left with hundreds of questions while mourning their loss.

For example, take a recent fatal Washington, D.C. accident. Tragedy struck last month when a man was killed after his car went off the road, down an embankment, and struck a tree. According to a news article covering the accident, police and firefighters were called to the scene around 12:06 AM near Canal Road NW in the vicinity of the Maryland state line. Firefighters worked to rescue the driver of the car, who was trapped inside. Around 12:45 AM, they were able to free him and bring him to an area hospital. Unfortunately, he later died from his injuries.

The deceased driver was the only person in the car at the time of the crash, meaning he may be the only one present at the time of the accident. But while this may look at first glance like a single-vehicle crash, it is very possible that it was caused by another negligent driver. At times, another driver and vehicle can cause a major, even fatal, accident without actually getting into the crash themselves. For example, it’s possible that another driver, heading in the opposite direction, was drifting into the other lane and caused the first driver to swerve off the road. A negligent driver also could have made a sudden and improper stop, or been distracted while driving, causing the intense swerve. The negligent driver may have not even seen the car swerving and going off the road. Or, they might have, but decided to leave the scene of the accident rather than staying and potentially getting in legal trouble. Whatever the reason, it cannot be assumed that this crash was actually just a single-vehicle one.

Earlier this month, a Washington D.C. cyclist was killed in a tragic accident at the intersection of 10th Street and Michigan Avenue, Northeast. Washington, D.C. bicycle accidents are a major concern for city residents, especially since bicyclists lack the protection from crashes than those in larger vehicles—such as cars, buses, and trucks might have. Bicycles also lack the safety features of other vehicles, such as airbags and emergency brakes. Because of their increased risk, cyclists in Washington, D.C., should always be as careful as possible while riding on the roads.

The recent tragic accident happened around 11 AM one morning. According to a local news article, the cyclist, a 47-year-old man, was struck by a driver in a car and suffered severe injuries. He was taken to the hospital by firefighters and EMS personnel, where he later died from his injuries. Not much more is known about the accident or the cause. But this incident serves as an example of a much larger problem—the safety of D.C.’s roads for cyclists.

Colleen Costello is an advisory neighborhood commissioner in D.C.’s Brookland, Michigan Park, and University Heights neighborhoods. She spoke to the news after the accident, saying that speeding along Michigan Avenue has become a major point of concern. “Michigan Avenue basically serves as this dangerous divide between our community where it’s not easy for people on foot or on bike to cross safely,” she said. She then continued, “We have a lot of seniors and a lot of young families and everybody in between and we all deserve to feel like we can cross the street without getting struck by a car.”

Washington, D.C. car accidents can happen anywhere, even when someone least expects it. One of the things that makes these accidents so upsetting and difficult for Washington, D.C. residents is the fact that they often seem to come out of nowhere, and yet their impacts can be felt for weeks, months, or even years. In some cases, the accidents can even be fatal, leaving families to mourn the loss of their loved one indefinitely.

For example, just last month a woman was tragically killed as she was walking. According to a news report, a driver was backing out of a driveway and hit the woman, who was tragically pronounced dead at the scene. The accident is still being investigated, and not much is known about it at this time.

This accident is just one example of the many accidents that happen every day in the blink of an eye but have serious and significant long-term effects. Often, Washington, D.C. accidents like this are just that—accidents. Usually, there is no ill intent, no intentional wrongdoing, and no one who wanted to cause harm to someone else. Even so, however, real harm occurs, and someone may still be legally at fault and liable for what occurred. Washington, D.C. law recognizes this, and has a system of law specifically for accident victims to recover against those who caused them harm, even without intent. Through a civil negligence lawsuit, individuals can file suit against someone whose negligence caused a Washington, D.C. accident, seeking to recover monetary damages. These damages can include lost wages, pain and suffering, medical bills, and funeral and burial expenses.

Contact Information