In the District of Columbia, landowners have a general duty to exercise reasonable care to make the property reasonably safe. If a landlord has notice of a dangerous condition, including a hazardous accumulation of snow or ice, the landowner must exercise ordinary care under the circumstances to remove the dangerous condition. This means that a landlord may have a duty under Washington, D.C. premises liability law, to take feasible measures while a storm is still in progress. However, to hold a landlord responsible for their injuries, a plaintiff must show that the landlord knew or should have known about the dangerous condition, including the presence of snow or ice. This means that often, a landlord who does not know about a dangerous accumulation of snow or ice has a reasonable amount of time after the conclusion of a storm to remove the snow or ice.

Recently a state appellate court issued an opinion holding that a landlord was not be protected by the state’s continuing storm doctrine, because the landlord failed to prove that there was a continuing storm based on the weather at the time of the plaintiff’s fall. In that case, the plaintiff slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk outside of her apartment. She filed a lawsuit against her landlord, claiming that the landlord was negligent in failing to keep the path in a safe condition. The landlord argued the according to the continuing storm doctrine, he did not have time to remove or ameliorate the snow or ice at the time that the plaintiff fell.

Under the continuing storm doctrine, a landlord generally may wait until the end of a storm or a reasonable time thereafter to remove ice and snow from an outdoor walkway. The idea is that because of the changing conditions present during a storm, it is not practical or necessary to remove ice and snow. To establish that the continuing storm doctrine applies, there must be meaningful, ongoing accumulation of snow or ice. The court held that in this case, there was a factual dispute as to whether there was a continuing storm. The weather reports showed only trace amounts of precipitation throughout the day, and thus, there was no clear evidence that there was an ongoing accumulation of snow or ice. Therefore, the court held that the landlord failed to show it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law under the continuing storm doctrine.

Washington, D.C.’s Workers’ Compensation Act provides some degree of protection to many injured workers. However, the Act does not protect all workers, does not provide benefits to all family members, and limits the beneficiaries who are able to recover. Under section 32-1504 of the Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act), an employer’s liability under the Act is the exclusive liability of the employer. Thus, a workers’ compensation case may be an injured worker’s only way to recover damages from their employer. The idea is that an employee gives up the right to pursue a tort claim against an employer in exchange for an easier means of recovery through the workers’ compensation system. This means that, normally, claims must be brought first before the Office of Workers’ Compensation and will generally be resolved through the agency.

However, Washington, D.C. law allows an employee to pursue a claim against a third party if a third party, such as a contractor, causes the plaintiff’s injury. In addition, injuries that are intentionally inflicted upon an employee and intended by the employer fall outside of the Act.

A recent case before one state’s supreme court demonstrates the limitations of the intentional-injury exception to that state’s workers’ compensation act. In that case, the plaintiff’s husband worked at a trucking and warehousing company. One day, after working long hours, his rig ran off the highway and rolled over, killing the plaintiff’s husband. The plaintiff filed a claim arguing that her husband was killed because he was overworked by the employer.

Many Washington, D.C. residents try to get away from their hectic and busy lives by planning a relaxing cruise vacation. These ships can travel all around the world and are generally a great way to unwind. However, just as in real life, accidents can happen on vacation. Sometimes a tragic incident can ruin a cruise and leave a plaintiff seriously injured. When this happens, Washington D.C. residents should remember that they may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the cruise line to recover for the harm they suffered.

Take for example a recent federal case against Carnival cruise lines. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was on vacation with her family aboard a Carnival cruise ship. Tragically, while on one of the decks of the boat, her three-year-old daughter fell off the deck onto the deck below, suffering head injuries. Eyewitness accounts report that the toddler was climbing the railing, although reports vary as to whether the toddler fell over or fell through the railing. The plaintiff sued Carnival cruise line, alleging negligence in the creation and maintenance of the guardrail.

Generally, to be successful in a personal injury claim, the plaintiff must prove three things: (1) that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care; (2) that the defendant breached that duty; (3) that the defendant’s breach caused the accident or injury; and (4) that the plaintiff suffered actual harm as a result. The court in this case was focused on the first requirement—establishing the duty of care—because the defendant had filed a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the case, claiming that they did not have notice of the danger or hazard and thus had no duty to fix it.

Summer is officially here, and soon, families will be heading to water parks where they can escape the heat, enjoy the water, and cool down for a few hours. Others with a taste for adventure may seek the excitement of a rollercoaster or a waterslide during their visit. These trips are usually filled with fond memories and amusement parks often do take the necessary precautions to adequately protect guests’ safety. However, when a preventable injury occurs, these parks can often be held accountable through a Washington, D.C. premises liability lawsuit. In addition, a recent case illustrates that amusement parks may also be liable for guest’s injuries under a product liability theory.

According to the recent opinion, a man brought a product liability claim against a water park after he was injured while going down a waterslide. The plaintiff had slipped from a sitting position on an inner tube and landed on his stomach. When the plaintiff splashed into the pool below, he hit his feet on the bottom of the pool, leaving him with a fractured pelvis and hip. Even though the plaintiff had ample evidence of his injury and the water park’s role in causing it, the trial court ruled against him in his product liability claim.

In front of the appellate court, the defense argued that their water park provided its guests with a service, and not a product, and thus the plaintiff’s product liability claim must fail. Because product liability claims can only apply to products and not services, the defense argued that patrons visit the water park to obtain a service involving the use of waterslides, rather than paying a fee to primarily use waterslides as a product.

Governmental immunity, historically referred to as sovereign immunity, is a legal theory that protects government personnel and agencies from civil lawsuits. The premise stems from the idea that governments would not be able to effectively function if they feared constant liability for all of their actions. However, to address the fundamental unfairness of this doctrine, many jurisdictions limit the amount of immunity that a governmental entity enjoys. These laws are generally referred to as “tort claims acts.” In Washington, D.C., individuals who believe they suffered damages because of the negligence of a government entity should contact an attorney to discuss their rights and remedies.

The U.S. Department of Education requires that teachers, principals, and other school administrators protect their students and provide them with appropriate educational environments. However, the law often protects these institutions from lawsuits. Additionally, lawsuits that can proceed often require plaintiffs to abide by burdensome filing and notice requirements.

Lawsuits against governments encompass many other complex issues. One issue is whether the potential defendant falls under the protected category. For instance, in some cases, a negligent university or college may enjoy governmental immunity protections, whereas another similar institution may not. This largely depends on the type of institution and the type of funding they receive from the government.

Defendants work hard to try to avoid liability when they face a lawsuit. One way in which defendants in Washington, D.C. premises liability cases may try to avoid liability is by filing a motion for judgment as a matter of law, or a directed verdict. These types of motions are routinely filed, as they provide a potential basis for an appeal if the case is not decided in the defendant’s favor.

One recent case illustrates a set of facts under which an appeals court found a directed verdict was not proper. In that case, the plaintiff had sued his apartment complex, alleging two counts of negligence and negligent repair after he slipped in a bathtub at his apartment. Before the plaintiff moved into the apartment, the owner had the unit inspected by the owner’s maintenance team. A week after he moved in, the plaintiff’s wife sent the apartment complex a list of items that needed to be addressed, including a  bathtub that was draining slowly. A maintenance person came to address the bathtub issue, and noted afterward that it was working correctly. A month later, the plaintiff was taking a shower, and the water failed to drain properly, causing the water to rise over his feet. He slipped and fell, causing him to sustain a deep cut in his back that required hospitalization, stitches, and therapy. The plaintiff and his wife did not notice a problem with the bathtub drain between the service call and when the plaintiff slipped and fell.

The apartment complex filed a motion for a directed verdict, the trial court denied it, and a jury found in the plaintiff’s favor and attributed zero liability to him. The apartment complex appealed, arguing in part that the trial court should have directed a verdict in its favor. The appeals court disagreed. It found the issue of whether the apartment complex negligently repaired the bathtub drain, causing the bathtub to back up with water later, was an issue for the jury to decide. Taking the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the drain did clog again, and reasonable people could find that there was sufficient notice and negligent repair, and that the clogged drain caused him to injure himself.

A plaintiff in a Washington, D.C personal injury case not only has to prove that the defendant acted wrongfully, and that the defendant’s wrongful conduct caused the plaintiff harm, but also that they suffered harm. Further, they must prove the extent of that harm. Damages can only be awarded if the party claiming the damages has adequately proved that the opponent’s wrongful conduct caused the harm suffered. Washington, D.C. courts have stated that damages cannot be based on “speculation or guesswork,” thus, a plaintiff must provide an adequate basis for the jury to make a reasoned judgment. In addition, damage calculations have to be sufficiently detailed to support an award of damages.

Generally, damages are meant to compensate the plaintiff for the harm the plaintiff suffered. Examples of compensatory damages include past and future medical expenses, lost wages, loss of companionship, and pain and suffering. Punitive damages are also available in D.C. injury cases in some instances. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for bad conduct and to deter others from engaging in such conduct. When punitive damages are at issue, a court may consider the defendant’s net worth and ability to pay.

Failing to adequately prove damages can be just as devastating as a judgment in the opposing party’s favor. For example, in a recent case, an appellate court upheld an award of zero future damages, which significantly limited the plaintiff’s recovery. In that case, the plaintiff and her husband claimed that an emergency room physician and his employer failed to properly assess and treat the wife’s brain aneurysm when she went to the emergency room. On the issue of damages, the plaintiffs presented billing records that showed the wife’s medical expenses totaled over $1 million. They also presented testimony concerning her procedures and rehabilitation, future medical expenses, lost wages, and the care she required based on her condition. The defense challenged the extent of future expenses and the credibility of the witnesses.

Under the doctrine of respondeat superior employers can be held liable for the wrongful acts of their employees. For an employer to be liable in a Washington, D.C. injury case, an employee must have committed the wrongful act within the scope of their employment. The doctrine is meant to hold employers responsible and to aid victims in recovering compensation, as employers are often better situated to pay financial compensation.

Typically, to be within the scope of employment, the wrongful acts must be have been done at least in part to further the employer’s business, rather than solely for the employee’s own purposes. Generally, whether an employee was acting within the scope of their employment is a question for the jury to decide. A court may resolve the issue only where a reasonable juror could not find that the employee’s acts were within the scope of their employment.

In a recent case before one state’s appeals court, the court considered whether Lyft could be held liable for a driver’s accident while the driver was driving a car he rented through Lyft. The driver was on his way home in a car he had rented through Lyft’s “Express Drive program,” which allows drivers to rent vehicles pre-approved for use on the Lyft platform. The rental car could be used for driving for Lyft but could also be used for unlimited personal use. The driver had not worked for Lyft on the day of the accident, and while on his way home, the driver hit the plaintiffs’ vehicles, causing significant injuries.

Washington, D.C. product liability cases often require expert testimony concerning the connection between the defective product and the resulting injuries. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals, the highest court for the District of Columbia, decided in 2016 that District of Columbia courts would apply the Daubert standard embodied in Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence to determine the admission of expert testimony in civil and criminal cases.

Under Rule 702, a witness is qualified as an expert if:

  1. The expert’s specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence in the case or to determine a fact in issue;
  2. The expert’s testimony is based on sufficient facts or data; the testimony is based on reliable principles and methods; and
  3. The expert has “reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.”

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals determined this rule is broad enough to permit testimony “that is the product of competing principles or methods in the same field of expertise.”

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Popular fast-food chain Chipotle Mexican Grill recently agreed to pay $25,000,000 to resolve criminal charges they faced for serving tainted food to consumers. According to the New York Times, federal prosecutors charged Chipotle with two counts of violating the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act by serving food from 2015 to 2018 that made over 1,000 people across the United States, including Washington, D.C., sick. In addition to the fine—the largest ever imposed in a food safety case—Chipotle has also agreed to adhere to a new food safety program, to avoid incidents like this in the future.

In the agreement, Chipotle admitted to being connected to several foodborne illness outbreaks, including several outbreaks of norovirus. Norovirus, which spreads easily, is associated with stomach upsets, vomiting, and nausea. It is said that these outbreaks were largely due to Chipotle employees not following food safety protocols. Additionally, Chipotle employees acknowledged feeling pressure to come to work even when sick, which contributed to the spread of illness to others.

This case highlights the importance of food providers and restaurants taking great care when preparing food. Federal prosecutors take credit for holding Chipotle responsible for the illnesses they caused and have promised to continue to actively enforce food safety laws to protect the public health. Food safety advocates hope that the case will set an example for others in the industry, reminding them to review and improve their own food safety policies and ensure they are being followed.

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