District of Columbia Medical Malpractice Laws & Statutory Rules

Find out what steps you'll need to take to file a negligence lawsuit against a medical professional in Washington, D.C.

If you think that you might have a viable medical malpractice claim, you are probably wondering what your state laws have to say about medical malpractice. In this article, we'll take a close look at some key laws that could affect a medical malpractice lawsuit or settlement in Washington, D.C.

Statute of Limitations

All states and the District of Columbia have very specific deadlines for filing medical malpractice lawsuits. These deadlines are called statutes of limitations. Medical malpractice statutes of limitations can be somewhat complex because they may contain as many as three or four separate deadlines. Let's look at the different rules in D.C. medical malpractice lawsuits.

The Standard Deadline

The first part of the statute of limitations is the standard deadline, which gives victims of medical malpractice a certain number of years after the malpractice occurred within which to file a lawsuit. The standard deadline in Washington, DC, is three years. That means, if you do not file a medical malpractice lawsuit within three years after the malpractice occurred, you lose your right to sue for medical malpractice relating to the incident in question unless you fall within one of the exceptions discussed below.

The Discovery Rule

The second part of the statute of limitations is called the discovery rule. The discovery rule is an exception to the standard deadline in situations where the victim could not reasonably have learned that he/she even had a medical malpractice case.

The Washington, DC, discovery rule states that the three year statute of limitations does not begin running in a medical malpractice claim until the injured person knows or reasonably should know: 1) that he/she was injured, 2) the factual cause of the injury, and 3) of some evidence of wrongdoing by the health care provider.

The Statute of Limitations for Minor Children

The third part of the statute of limitations is the deadline for minors (children under age 18) or their parents or legal guardians to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. In Washington, DC, children under age 18 at the time of the alleged malpractice have until their 21st birthday to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Other Exceptions

The District of Columbia has other exceptions to the statute of limitations that may apply in a medical malpractice case, depending on the circumstances.

For example, the statute of limitations may be extended:

  • if the defendant fraudulently concealed the malpractice
  • if the defendant left the District after committing the malpractice, or
  • if the victim of malpractice was insane or imprisoned at the time of the malpractice.

The District of Columbia statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases can be found at D.C. Code section 12-301.

No Limits on Damages

Some states have caps or limits in the amount of the damages that can be awarded to a victim of medical malpractice. The District of Columbia has no such cap.

Shared Fault Rules

In some medical malpractice cases, the defendant may argue that you are at least in part liable for causing your own injuries by, for example, failing to follow the doctor's instructions. If you go to trial and are found to be partially liable, that finding will reduce or even eliminate your damages award, depending on your state's laws regarding shared fault in injury cases.

The District of Columbia follows a harsh "contributory negligence" rule. This means, if you are found to be at all negligent with respect to your injury, illness, or medical condition, you are completely barred from recovering any damages at all. Very few states and jurisdictions still follow this rule, but Washington, D.C., is one of them.

Other Important D.C. Medical Malpractice Laws

Many states have passed laws requiring plaintiffs' lawyers in medical malpractice cases to submit some proof of the defendant's negligence at the beginning of the case before they will be allowed to proceed with the lawsuit. This proof is usually in the form of a report in which a qualified physician offers an opinion that the defendant was negligent. In some states, the report is called the Certificate of Merit and, in others, the Offer of Proof. Washington, DC, has no such requirement.

In Washington, D.C., any person who intends to file a medical malpractice lawsuit must notify the intended defendant in writing of the proposed lawsuit at least 90 days before filing the lawsuit. The District of Columbia also requires that the parties in a medical malpractice case go to non-binding mediation very early in the case, often before any formal pre-trial investigation (called "discovery") takes place.

If you would like more information on the District of Columbia's medical malpractice laws, you can do a little research of your own. These laws can be found at D.C. Code sections 16-2801 to 16-2841.

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