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.

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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.

If an individual has been injured in a Washington, D.C. accident by an employee, in addition to other claims, the individual may be able to file a claim against the at-fault party’s employer for negligent hiring or retention. Under Washington, D.C. law, to establish a claim for negligent hiring or retention, a plaintiff must show that the employer negligently hired or retained an individual who committed a wrongful act by placing the individual in an employment situation that poses an unreasonable risk of harm to others. An employer may also be liable for negligently retaining an independent contractor.

These claims are based on the negligence of the employer, rather than on vicarious liability. Generally, an employer has an obligation to its customers to reasonably inquire into an employee’s past record and employment if, for example, an employee will have un-monitored access to customers’ homes in the course of the employment. An employer may also be liable for negligently entrusting an employee to use a vehicle or other property if the employer knew or should have known that the employee might use the property in a way that would involve an unreasonable risk of harm.

A recent case before a federal appeals court recently considered a negligent hiring claim in a personal injury case involving an independent contractor. In that case, Harrah’s New Orleans Casino had hired a wildlife removal company as an independent contractor to remove birds from palm trees near the casino. The plaintiff was standing in front of the casino when the contractor accidentally struck the plaintiff, causing her injuries in her leg and ankle.

In Washington, D.C., when someone is injured in an accident that occurs on another’s property, they usually have the option of bringing a personal injury lawsuit against the property owner to recover under a theory of premises liability. Generally, premises liability allows people to be held liable when they are negligent in regard to the safety of their property and yet invite or allow others onto it. Usually, premises liability cases involve wet floors causing a slip and fall accident, cracks in sidewalks that cause someone to trip, or other similar issues. But it is important to remember that any accident—no matter how strange or unique—can potentially serve as the basis for a Washington, D.C. personal injury lawsuit against a property owner.

For example, take a recent odd and tragic accident that killed a 26-year-old man and made national headlines. According to a New York Times article, the accident occurred in early February at a baby shower. A small cannon-type device, designed to create a big flash, a loud noise, and create smoke, exploded in the hosts’ backyard at the event around 7:30 PM. The victim, a guest at the party, was about 10 to 15 feet away when it blew up and was hit by metal shrapnel from the explosion. He was taken to the hospital immediately, but, unfortunately, he died from his injuries.

The investigation into the accident is ongoing. Officials are focusing their attention on whether the device was used properly or malfunctioned. The homeowner bought the cannon at an auction and had fired it several times beforehand. But officials are concerned that perhaps there was a malfunction—the combination of gunpowder and no regular inspections means that owners of devices such as this one may not notice hairline fractures. Or, perhaps even more likely, it’s possible the homeowner packed too much gunpowder into the cannon, causing the explosion.

A recent congressional report revealed that many baby foods sold in the Washington, D.C. area contain high levels of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, and cadmium. As one news source reported, investigators raised concern over the levels which surpassed levels allowed in products like bottled water. The report highlights the U.S. government’s lenient approach to oversight of the safety of baby food.

Exposure to heavy metals has been linked to behavioral impairments, brain damage, and death. Four companies, Nurture, Inc. (which sells HappyBABY), Beech-Nut, Gerber, and Hain Celestial Group (which sells Earth’s Best), provided information about their testing policies and results. Three other companies, Walmart (which sells Parent’s Choice brand), Sprout Organic Foods, and Campbell Soup Company (which makes Plum Organics brand), did not provide information regarding testing policies and results. Lawmakers raised concerns over the potentially higher levels contained in the products that did not provide the requested information.

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration does not set limits on heavy metal limits for baby foods, apart from arsenic levels in rice cereal. The levels of inorganic arsenic from two companies that tested such levels exceeded the levels set for infant rice cereal. Although heavy metals occur naturally in some vegetables in grains, the amounts may increase if manufacturers add other ingredients to the food, such as vitamin and mineral mixes.

Knowing the applicable filing deadlines is essential in a Washington, D.C. personal injury lawsuit. Failure to abide by the deadlines will often result in a dismissal of one’s case, and in some circumstances, the case cannot be refiled. The statute of limitations refers to the deadline for filing certain types of claims after a cause of action accrues. In general, there is a three-year statute of limitations for Washington, D.C. personal injury cases and a two-year statute of limitations for wrongful death cases. The deadline may be able to be tolled, or extended, in some circumstances.

A statute of repose is similar to the statute of limitations but is more strictly construed. It puts a fixed deadline on filing for certain claims. Some states have statutes of repose for personal injury claims—Washington, D.C. does not have a general statute of repose for such claims, though it does have statutes of repose for certain claims. For example, the District of Columbia has a statute of repose of ten years for damages to real property based on the defective or unsafe condition of an improvement to real property.

A recent case demonstrates how statutes of repose and statutes of limitations can be applied and why they must be adhered to. In 2003, the plaintiff underwent surgery during which a TVT transvaginal mesh sling device was implanted. She later began experiencing pain, urinary issues, and scarring. Her doctor told her that the mesh had eroded and had a procedure to remove the implant in 2006. That same year, she had a similar mesh sling implanted, which was later eroded and removed in 2011. She claimed that she learned of the injury in July 2012 after a physician said that the mesh was the likely cause of her injuries.

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