When considering if you should seek legal advice about an injury you sustained, you may have some questions about where to begin, or if you have a case at all. You may not even have the time to even think about how to build a case before your medical bills hit. Suddenly, you find yourself with your insurance failing to remedy your situation, and feeling like you are alone with nowhere to turn. An attorney can help.
Once you decide to seek legal aid, your next step is preparing what you want to bring to the attorney. Any and all information you have will help your attorney understand the specifics of your case. When considering starting a case in Washington D.C., you will want to take a number of factors into account. There are a few things at play that may need to be sorted out before a case can be filed. Preparation work to file a claim can begin at any time, however, things like time, recovery, and the amount of money in the claim will all play a part in when to file and how your case should be presented and heard.
The Statute of Limitations
Washington D.C. imposes certain limitations on time periods in which a person can pursue a case. For personal injury cases, the claim must be filed within 3 years of the incident. For wrongful death cases, the claim must be filed within two years of the death. Any claims for intentional torts, including battery and assault, must be filed within a year following the incident. Although there is a considerable amount of time that the law allows to file a case, you may want to begin the process right away. By the time the medical bills roll in, your injuries may have kept you out of work for a considerable amount of time. Building a case early on can greatly help your chances of a favorable outcome. While the statute of limitations generally holds true for all cases, there are a few exceptions to the rule.
Claims as a Minor
When a minor is the victim of personal injury, the clock on the statute of limitations does not start counting down right away. Minors who suffer injury will have until their 18th birthday before the statute begins to run to pursue legal action. If a minor is the victim of sexual abuse, the statute of limitations extends to 7 years following their 18th birthday or 3 years from when the victim knew, or reasonably should have known, of any act constituting abuse, whichever is later. This extension protects the rights of minors to make the decision to pursue a claim upon reaching adulthood. Parents are able to bring cases on behalf of their children as well.
Claims Against the District of Columbia
There are specific rules that come into play for pursuing a case against the state, or a state employee. The statute of limitations on pursuing a case is just 6 months following the incident. The district court website also lists a number of special procedures for beginning a case. Because of the short time frame, it is of utmost importance to contact an attorney right away if you wish to pursue a case against the government. The sooner you get in contact with an attorney, the stronger your case will be in court. With the much stricter limit on time to pursue a case against the District, time is of the essence.
Washington D.C. follows the principle of contributory negligence. What this means is that when a jury deliberates to find fault for an incident, they will determine whether the behavior of the plaintiff contributed to the incident.
This can be thought of through an example: suppose a driver only yields at a stop sign for a brief moment, believes it is clear and goes when another driver who is speeding, rear ends him. The first driver is injured and decides to pursue a negligence case against the speeding driver. The jury will first determine if the defendant was negligent, if so they will then be asked whether the plaintiff contributed to the incident. The defendant should not have been speeding, but the plaintiff should have come to a complete stop at the stop sign. When deliberating, if the plaintiff is found to be even 1% responsible for the incident, the plaintiff cannot recover damages.
The theory of contributory negligence illustrates why it is of utmost importance to make sure you have an attorney who is experienced and prepared to push your claim forward. If your case goes to trial, you will want an attorney who knows personal injury law inside and out. You can't risk inexperience when the stakes for the compensation you need are this high.
Washington, D.C. Small Claims Court
If you have a smaller claim, you may be able to handle it in the District's Small Claims Court. In the District, claims with amounts in controversy less than $5,000 that only seek monetary damages are to be handled in the Small Claims Court. When working on a small claim, the courts suggest that representation may not be necessary, however the courts do require any businesses filing a claim to have a lawyer. In a smaller claim, if representation is not necessary, it may still greatly improve your chances for success to receive outside counsel from an experienced attorney.
When contemplating the pursuit of legal action in Washington D.C., it is important to keep all of those factors in mind. It is also important to get in touch with an experienced and skilled attorney as soon as possible. If you or a loved one has been injured, contact our offices today. The compensation you need is just a phone call away.