Every state in the U.S. upholds a statute of limitations or time limit for filing personal injury claims. A plaintiff must file a complaint for a personal injury within this time limit to have a chance at securing compensation for his or her damages. In Washington, D.C., the statute of limitations for personal injury claims is three years, starting on the date the injury occurred.
If you fail to file a complaint within the three years following your injury, you could lose your right to file a claim. If the statute of limitations passes, the defendant’s attorney can simply file a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds of the missed statute, and the judge reviewing the case will likely grant this request if you did indeed miss the statute of limitations. Three years may sound like a generous amount of time to file a personal injury claim, but it is vital to act quickly as many other Washington, D.C. laws may influence your claim and eat away at your available time to file.
Washington, D.C. residents must contend with several other local laws and regulations when it comes to pursuing their personal injury claims. First, Washington, D.C. follows a no-fault rule for car accidents, one of the leading causes of personal injury claims nationwide. If you get into an accident in Washington, D.C., you must file a claim for damages against your own auto insurance policy’s Personal Injury Protection coverage, regardless of who caused the accident.
The no-fault law does include an exception; if an accident caused a severe injury, such as a bone fracture, a traumatic brain injury, or any injury resulting in significant disability or permanent impairment, the victim may have the right to pursue a personal injury claim for recovery beyond what insurance allows.
The biggest obstacle facing most personal injury claimants in Washington, D.C. is not the statute of limitations but rather the District’s contributory negligence law. Washington, D.C. is one of few jurisdictions in the U.S. that still upholds a contributory negligence law as most other jurisdictions have decided these statutes present unfair limitations to personal injury claimants. Under a contributory negligence law, any fault on part of the plaintiff bars the plaintiff from recovery, even 1%. The contributory fault law in Washington, D.C. means that any amount of fault, however slight, can jeopardize a plaintiff’s right to secure recovery from a personal injury claim.
Some DC personal injury claims involve damages that are not immediately detectable. For example, many medical malpractice lawsuits involve injuries the claimants cannot immediately identify. If a plaintiff cannot immediately recognize symptoms of harm, Washington, D.C. upholds a discovery of harm rule that allows the statute of limitations to effectively toll or delay until the harm in question is observable.
The discovery rule applies when a plaintiff discovers harm or should have discovered harm with reasonable diligence. For example, a plaintiff underwent surgery on January 1, 2019 and seemed to be completely fine after the procedure. Several weeks later on March 1, 2019, the plaintiff noticed some adverse symptoms appear, but the plaintiff brushes it off until they worsen. The plaintiff does not visit a doctor until April 1, 2019, and the doctor diagnoses the plaintiff’s symptoms as the result of malpractice that occurred during the plaintiff’s surgery. In this example, the statute of limitations would not start on April 1 since the plaintiff should have reasonably sought treatment as soon as adverse symptoms appeared. The statute of limitations in this case would begin on March 1, 2019 when the symptoms appeared.
The best way to handle the statute of limitations in Washington, D.C. is to pursue legal action as soon as possible following any type of personal injury. Reach out to a reputable local personal injury attorney and consider taking advantage of an offer for a free consultation if you are unsure about your right to take legal action and the potential compensation available in your claim.