Pursuing Multiple Theories of Liability in Washington, D.C. Personal Injury Accidents

When someone is injured in a Washington, D.C. accident, they are entitled to pursue a claim for compensation against the parties they believe to be responsible for their injuries. In many cases, the injured party will bring multiple claims against the at-fault party, each with a different legal standard. In a recent state appellate decision, the court wrestled with the question of whether the plaintiff’s claims were properly dismissed by the lower court.

In that case, the plaintiff was a truck driver who arrived at his destination to pick up a load of corn. The plaintiff was responsible for ensuring the quality of the corn, so he waited near the loading dock while an employee with the processing facility loaded the corn onto the plaintiff’s truck. At some point, the forklift driver struck the plaintiff, knocking the plaintiff off the loading dock, at which point he hit his head on the side of the truck. The plaintiff suffered serious injuries and was no longer able to work.

The plaintiff filed two distinct claims against the processing plant. First, under the theory of respondeat superior, the plaintiff claimed that the plant was liable for the negligent actions of the forklift driver. Second, the plaintiff argued that the plant was negligent under a premises liability theory, specifically, for failing to, “protect invitees from the hazard posed by its forklift drivers and failing to keep the premises safe for invitees.”

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking to dismiss both of the plaintiff’s claims. The court determined that the plaintiff should have been aware that forklifts can be dangerous, and found that the plaintiff had equal or greater knowledge of the hazard. Thus, the court dismissed both claims. The plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that, even if the court correctly determined that the plaintiff was aware of the hazard, the court should not have dismissed both of his claims. The appellate court agreed, holding that the lower court should have allowed the plaintiff’s respondeat superior claim to proceed.

The court explained that the plaintiff brought two distinct claims which were governed by different standards. Here, the plaintiff’s respondeat superior claim was based on the active negligence of the forklift driver, while the premises liability claim was based on the defendant’s failure to maintain a safe premises. The court went on to explain that the lower court’s finding that the plaintiff had “equal or greater” knowledge of the hazard was only relevant to the premises liability claim. Thus, the court held that the lower court improperly relied on that fact when it dismissed the plaintiff’s case.

Have You Been Injured in a Washington, D.C. Slip-and-Fall Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Washington, D.C. slip-and-fall accident, the knowledgable injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC can help. At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we have extensive experience representing injury victims across Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia in all types of claims, including premises liability cases. To learn more, call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation today.

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