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.

Most people know that when they are injured in a Washington, D.C. accident, they may be able to sue the negligent party in court to recover for their damages. When potential plaintiffs picture filing a lawsuit against a negligent party, however, they usually picture a dramatic court scene, with lawyers making impassioned and heated arguments in front of a judge and jury. While this situation does occasionally indeed occur in D.C. courts, what many people do not realize is how many personal injury cases are decided way before a trial is even scheduled. One common way is by a court granting a motion for summary judgment.

Summary judgment is proper when there is no dispute of material facts, and the facts at hand can lead to only one outcome. Typically, a party will file what is called a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to weigh the entire record in front of them and determine that the other party could not possibly win. Sometimes both parties will file for summary judgment, convinced that they must win based on the evidence. When considering the motions, the judge draws all inferences in favor of the non-moving party.

In a recent opinion, a federal appellate court considered whether or not summary judgment was proper in a medical malpractice case. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was admitted to the defendant hospital for cardiac bypass surgery. During his time in the hospital and during surgery, however, complications arose, which resulted in the plaintiff needing to have a double amputation. Afterward, the plaintiff sued the hospital, alleging that they were negligent by not removing contaminated heparin, a certain drug, from their stocks. According to the plaintiff, the contaminated drug was what caused the complications, and as such, the hospital was liable for the resulting injuries.

Healthcare professionals have a special duty to their patients. Because healthcare professionals receive specialized training and are experienced in their field, they are expected to meet certain standards when treating patients. If a healthcare professional fails to meet those standards, and a patient suffers an injury, the healthcare professional may be liable for medical negligence. In a D.C. medical malpractice case, a plaintiff must prove the applicable standard of care that the defendant was required to meet, that the defendant failed to meet the standard of care, and that the defendant’s failure caused the plaintiff’s injury.

Washington, D.C. courts have stated that while healthcare professionals are not expected to be perfect, they may be liable when their conduct falls below the standard of care that the professional must meet. In order to establish the applicable standard of care, expert testimony is usually required, because the subject often is not within an average person’s common knowledge. In general, a Washington, D.C. medical malpractice case must be filed within three years of the date of injury, or when the plaintiff should have become aware of the injury through the exercise of reasonable due diligence.

In a recent medical malpractice case before a state appeals court, the plaintiff suffered a brain infection at a hospital after undergoing surgery to remove a cyst. The infection resulted in permanent neurological injuries. The plaintiff sued the hospital, claiming that the center’s nurses and other providers were negligent in failing to give her an antibiotic before surgery.

When someone is injured using a product in Washington, D.C., they may assume that it was their fault, and they have no course of action against anyone else. This is especially true if they have used the machine before, or if no one else was around when they were injured. Often, those injured in these scenarios will blame themselves. However, these instances may be suitable for a product liability lawsuit. Washington, D.C. law allows individuals injured while using a dangerous or defective product to sue the product’s manufacturer. If successful, these suits may allow injured victims to recover for lost wages, pain and suffering, and past and future medical expenses.

However, potential plaintiffs need to understand how complicated these cases may be. It is usually not enough to show that you were injured while using the product. Typically, the plaintiff must prove several other elements to hold a manufacturer liable. The exact requirements depend on what type of products liability claim the plaintiff is making, but one important one that comes up often is having to prove that the product was defective or dangerous at the time that it was sold.

Recently, a federal appellate court considered a case that hinged on this requirement. According to the court’s written opinion, the product in question was a tube-end forming machine. The user would load tube into the machine, and then press a foot pedal to activate the hydraulic press, which brought clamps around the tube and shaped the end of the tube. The machine at issue was sold originally by the manufacturer in 1992 but passed along to several companies before being sold to the plaintiff’s employer in 2014. When sold in 1992, there was a finger guard to prevent a user’s fingers from being crushed by the machine, but the original guard was lost over the years and replaced with a new guard that only worked for a certain size of tube.

Product liability cases allow a successful plaintiff to recover compensation for injuries suffered as a result of a defective product and to hold companies liable for their role in causing or allowing the defect to occur. A Washington, D.C. products liability case generally requires that a plaintiff prove that a product was defective when it left the defendant’s control, that there was no substantial change in the product’s condition before it reached the consumer, that the product was unreasonably dangerous, and that the product’s defect caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

A product that carries a potential danger must adequately warn consumers of the risk and instruct consumers on the proper use of the product. Warnings and instructions about the appropriate use must be clear, direct, and easy to understand. Under some theories of recovery, as long as the product was defective, a plaintiff may not be required to show that a defendant acted carelessly in creating the defect.

Formula Maker May Pose Health Risk to Infants

According to a recent news report, the Baby Brezza formula-making machine may pose a danger to infants. Evidently, a couple used the machine to mix formula for their baby, but after she began to lose weight, they discovered the cause of her weight loss was the Baby Brezza formula maker. The machine allegedly dispensed watery formula, which resulted in an insufficient amount of nutrients for the baby, according to the baby’s pediatrician. The baby began to gain weight again after the couple stopped using the device—but the experience was very upsetting for the parents. The couple filed two class-action lawsuits against the company, claiming the machine was defective.

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Business owners generally have a duty to protect customers from known hazards under Washington, D.C. law. To prove a dangerous condition existed in a Washington, D.C. premises liability case, a plaintiff must show that the defendant either had actual notice or constructive notice of the hazardous condition. To prove constructive notice, a plaintiff has to show the condition existed for long enough that the defendant should have known of the condition and corrected it in the exercise of reasonable care. The duration of the hazard is an important factor, and the evidence in support of constructive notice often includes evidence of how long the hazard existed. Other evidence may include, for example, the frequency that a defendant inspects for hazards. However, whether notice is sufficient to amount to constructive notice depends on the facts of the particular case.

In a recent case before a state appellate court, the court considered whether a store may have had constructive notice of a puddle of water on the floor before the plaintiff slipped and fell in it. In that case, the plaintiff slipped and fell on the puddle of water at a supermarket. The plaintiff claimed that the plaintiff was negligent because of the existence of the dangerous condition. In the course of discovery in the case, the plaintiff’s sister was deposed, who was there when the plaintiff fell. In the sister’s deposition, the sister was asked only about where the water came from and whether the puddle appeared transparent. She stated that she did not know where the water came from and believed the water was clear.

After the defendant filed for summary judgment, the plaintiff submitted an affidavit from her sister. In the affidavit, the plaintiff’s sister stated that shortly after the plaintiff fell, she saw a pool of water on the ground near a cooler. She explained the puddle was elongated and appeared to have been stepped in by multiple people because there were track marks or footprints to and from the puddle. The store argued that the affidavit should have been stricken from the record, because the affidavit repudiated the sister’s deposition testimony.

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