Washington D.C. Personal Injury Laws & Statutory Rules

If you've been injured in an accident in Washington D.C., make sure you understand these rules before you start your personal injury case.

If you’re involved in an injury-related insurance claim or lawsuit in Washington, D.C., it’s important to be aware of the laws that could apply to your case. In this article we'll take a look at a few key Washington, D.C. personal injury laws.

Time Limits to File a Lawsuit

Washington, D.C. has a time limit, known as the statute of limitations, that affects how long you have to file a personal injury lawsuit in court after an injury. D.C.’s time limit is three years, and it typically begins to run on the date of the accident or incident that led to your injuries.

It’s important to keep this deadline in mind, because if you don’t get your lawsuit filed in court before the three-year window closes, you’ll almost certainly lose your right to have the matter heard in court.

"Shared" Fault in Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. follows a contributory fault rule that applies when a claimant or plaintiff shares some of the fault for the accident that resulted in the injury. Contributory fault is a particularly harsh rule, in that it prevents an injured person from recovering damages if he or she is found to share any measure of fault for the accident -- no matter how tiny the percentage.

Here’s an example. Suppose you’re driving a few miles per hour above the speed limit in D.C. You go through an intersection with a green light, but an oncoming driver makes a left right in front of you. Eventually, the amount of fault assigned to the other driver works out to 90 percent, and the amount of fault assigned to you is 10 percent. 

Under D.C.’s contributory fault law, your damages award drops to zero automatically once the court enters a finding of fault. The result is that you cannot collect damages from any other at-fault party.

D.C. courts are required to apply the contributory fault rule in injury cases where the injured person shares some of the fault. However, don’t be surprised if the rule comes up in insurance settlement negotiations as well.

D.C. Follows a “No-Fault” Car Insurance System

Washington, D.C. has a “no-fault” auto insurance law system. In this system, drivers usually must seek compensation from their own insurance coverage regardless of who was at fault for the accident. D.C. drivers are only permitted to step outside the confines of the no-fault system and pursue a claim against another driver if one of the following applies to their case:

  • substantial, permanent disfigurement or scarring
  • substantial and medically demonstrable impairment in performing daily activities
  • medically demonstrable impairment that prevents the injured person from performing daily activities for at least 180 days, or
  • medical bills that exceed the limits of all applicable no-fault insurance policies.

Since the injury thresholds in D.C.’s no-fault law are flexible, you’ll have some room to negotiate when it comes to talking to insurance companies about whether you’re entitled to take your case outside of no-fault.

See this page on no fault claims for more on how they work.

"Strict" Liability for Dog Bite/Attack Cases

In many states, dog owners are protected (to some degree) from injury liability the first time their dog injures someone if they had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous. This is often called a "one bite" rule. In The District of Columbia however, a specific statute (D.C. Code Ann. § 8-1812) makes the owner "strictly liable", meaning regardless of the animal's past behavior, the dog owner is responsible for a personal injury caused by his/her dog.

Injury Claims Against the Government

If it turns out that the D.C. government or one of its employees played a role in causing your injury, you’ll need to follow a different set of rules if you want to get compensation. In D.C., you have six months to file a formal claim with the government, putting them on notice that you’ve been injured.

Statutory References

Title 13 (civil court procedure) and Title 50 (motor vehicle laws) of the D.C. Code provide more information on D.C. laws related to common personal injury cases.

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