How Jurisdiction Affects Injuries within the Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland Borders

By Peter DePaolis

Most of us have heard the term “jurisdiction.” But when asked to define it, we focus on the criminal aspect of the law, such as which law enforcement group has the right to arrest someone, which district attorney tries the case, and so forth.

What you might not realize is borders between Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland play a significant role in injuries, too. The moment you cross the border into another state, you have different laws that impact your injury case – and some may be less favorable than others.

Take crossing Key Bridge from Georgetown to Rosslyn. You have now passed from D.C. into Virginia – two very different sets of laws and procedures.

While you see the signs telling you “Welcome to Washington, D.C.” or “Welcome to Virginia,” how do you know when an injury is in Maryland if you are on one of those diagonal streets? Or what happens if you are on the Potomac River in between Virginia and Washington?

If you are injured, the first step is figuring out jurisdiction. Because this will not only help you identify where you need to file your suit, but also which attorney to hire. Not all attorneys are licensed to practice in all three states. This means, if it turns out your injury case falls under Virginia jurisdiction but you hired a Maryland board attorney, you will have to find someone else.

Understanding the Basic Borders between Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland

Now that you know borders play a role in your case and how you proceed with it, the next step is to figure out where the borders are. Unfortunately, there is not a clear line driven across the pavement or through the water. Instead, it goes as follows:

Virginia and Maryland Borders

The border between Virginia and Maryland have been an issue of contest for quite some time. In general, the Potomac River serves as the official border, but the river is technically owned by Maryland. This ownership dates back to the year 1776 when Virginia ceded its claims to the river except for when they needed to use it for navigation. In the end, the governments recognize Maryland’s ownership of the river. Therefore, Virginia’s border ends the moment you reach the waters of the Potomac River. Any islands in the river are also under the jurisdiction of Maryland since they claim ownership of the waters.

If you were on a beltway that crosses the river, which jurisdiction takes charge? For example, you are in a motor vehicle collision on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge heading into Maryland but you are on the Virginia side of the bridge. While you might think Virginia would have jurisdiction because you are on their side of the bridge, the water is Maryland’s. Therefore, accidents over the water would still fall under Maryland law.

Washington, D.C., and Virginia Borders

Luckily, you do not have to worry about remembering many borders because the Potomac River is the border for Virginia and Washington, D.C. What might be confusing isc that we just discussed Maryland’s ownership. But between these two zones, D.C. controls the waters running between itself and Maryland, while Maryland gets the remainder.

Some areas that fall under D.C., even though you access them through Virginia include:

  • Roosevelt Island
  • Arlington Memorial Bridge
  • Memorial Circle

Maryland and Washington, D.C., Borders

In this instance, you do not have the convenience of a river marking the line between the two territories. Instead, the boundary starts from Alexandria, Virginia, at Jones Point and runs for a two-mile span, 45 degrees north. These lines are imaginary, but if you look at a map, you can see the borders.

In general, the border is best represented by Eastern, Southern, and Western Avenues. The border cuts through some homes’ front yards, making the issue more confusing. Therefore, if you are involved in an accident outside of the home versus in the home, the jurisdiction could change. The same goes for the Metro platform. One side of the platform falls under D.C. law while the other under Maryland.

Why Borders Matter in Injury Cases

You might assume that most states have uniform injury laws. And while all states have similarities, do not think there is a blanket law covering the whole United States or even the east coast. D.C., Virginia, and Maryland share similarities with personal injury laws, and all three use contributory negligence laws as well.

However, they have distinct differences in their laws to note, including:

  • The Statute of Limitations: The statute of limitations is how long you have to file a claim and seek compensation. Once you passed this line, you cannot pursue compensation, even if the other party was blatantly at fault. In Maryland and D.C., you have three years to file, but Virginia only gives you two.
  • Pool of Jurors: How each jurisdiction selects their jurors and where they pull their pool from also differs. If your case makes it to trial, this could have a significant impact on your outcome.

Bottom line, where the accident occurs dictates what laws you must follow. If you are injured in Virginia, you fall under Virginia negligence laws – even if you are from Maryland.

Hire a Law Firm That Can Represent All Three

Some firms only have registration with one or two of the bar associations in the three jurisdictions. Therefore, if your attorney is not registered with that state’s bar where your accident occurs, they may be unable to help you pursue action.

The law firm of Koonz McKenney Johnson & DePaolis LLP, can help you with your case. We practice in all three jurisdictions, and we have attorneys that can represent you in the event of an accident. We also have three convenient office locations so that you can find one that is close to your home, even if the accident occurred in the other jurisdiction.

To get started, contact an office location near you or contact us online with your questions.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.