The DC Superior Court is the general jursidiction / trial court that essentially handles all civil and criminal judicial matters in Washington DC. The Superior Court has five divisions: the Civil Division, the Criminal Division, the Family Division, the Domestic Violence Division, and the Probate Division. Unlike most state courts, which are made up of different court systems that each have specific functions and separate jurisdictions, the Superior Court has jurisdiction over all legal matters in Washington D.C. The Court of Appeals handles all appeals of Superior Court cases. Any appeal from the District of Columbia Court of Appeals goes directly to the United States Supreme Court.
The Superior Court is located in the heart of Washington D.C. at 500 Indiana Avenue, N.W. in the Judiciary Square. The main courthouse, the Moultrie Courthouse, contains most of the courtrooms and relevant administrative offices. It is really in the eye of the storm, just a few blocks from the Capitol Building, Smithsonian and other historical attractions. The other buildings that comprise the Judiciary Square house many of the court agencies and services.
The Superior Court has a Chief Judge (Hon. Robert E. Morin) and over 60 associate judges and magistrates. Each judge is assigned to a particular division for a designated length of time, usually 18 months to 2 years. During this time, the judge hears only cases filed in that Division. We have found this to be an extremely efficient system since each judge has only one area of the law to focus on at a time and are typically well-versed in current case law and trends. In general, the Civil Division of the Superior Court runs very smoothly and efficiently. While our attorneys have found that trial dates are often postponed by the court, the parties are always given ample notice, months usually, so that rearrangements can be made without any hardship or costs to the parties.
Administration of Civil Tort Cases in DC
With respect to the administration of personal injury case, there have been some productive changes in the way cases are handled in the District of Columbia. In car crash injury cases, both the mediation date and the pretrial conference will be set at the initial scheduling conference, with the pretrial date calendared within 2-3 weeks of the mediation date. With respect to dispositive motions that are not anticipated, the time built into the track for the filing and ruling of such motions will now be completely eliminated. This should help move auto accident cases in Washington D.C. move along with greater ease.
In each civil case, there is an initial scheduling conference. At this scheduling conference, the parties are given the option of selecting civil mediation or case evaluation. Both of these settlement tools are run by the Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Division of the court. Mediation is by far the most popular option among Washington D.C. injury lawyers. Mediations are conducted by an attorney from the community who is experienced in the applicable area of law. The mediator hears from both parties and attempts to facilitate settlement discussions. Mediators do not give an opinion of the value of the case or probable outcomes on liability. They will point out, however, in conversations with each side individually, problems with the case and hurdles that will need to be overcome to prevail. Mediations are held on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursday in the Mediation Center, Suite 114 of the Superior Court, Court Building A, 515 5th Street, N.W. Case evaluation, on the other hand, is also run by an attorney from the community, but the evaluator will give an opinion on damages, liability, and chances of prevailing. This option is sometimes unpopular among attorneys because it tends to give an artificial floor and ceiling to the value of the case and can, in fact, stall settlement negotiations. Moreover, mediator quality is potluck. Statute of Limitations
In DC personal injury claims are subject to a 3 year statute of limitations - DC Code § 12-301. This does mean that you simply get 3 years from the date of the injury to file your claim. Like many other jurisdictions, DC has adopted the "discovery rule" for calculating when the 3 year statute of limitation period begins to run. Under DC's discovery rule your 3-year period starts when you discover or reasonably should have discovered that your injury was the result of negligence. In other words, your 3 years starts when you should have known that you could sue someone for your injury.
In a simple auto accident case the 3-years will almost always start on the date of the accident. The accident is when the injury occurs and everyone understands (or should understand) that you can sue the other driver if your injured. However, the application of the discovery rule and calculating the 3-year limitation period can get much more complex in medical malpractice and other types of tort cases. It also gets even more complex when the injured person is a child or someone under the age of 18.
There is one significant exception to DC's 3-year limitation period for tort claims. If the case involves a wrongful death claim (i.e., the person dies as a result of the accident, malpractice, etc.) then the statute of limitations in DC is only 2-years. Auto Insurance Laws
DC law requires insurers to offer optional no-fault auto insurance requirements which means that minor accidents get covered by the driver's own insurance regardless of fault. More significant accidents involving personal injury claims can be pursued under the traditional at-fault tort law system.
The law in the District of Columbia also requires insurance carriers to disclose the insured's policy limits to a plaintiff on request. DC Code § 31-2403.01. Comparative Negligence
In tort cases where there is some degree of shared fault between the plaintiff and defendant(s), DC is one of the few jurisdictions that continues to follow the traditional rule of contributory negligence. Under contributory negligence when a plaintiff is found to be even 1% responsible for an accident, they are supposed to be legally barred from recovering any money. So let's say A sues B for a car accident and a jury finds B 90% at fault and A 10% at fault for causing the accident. Under DC's contributory negligence rule A would not be entitled to recover any damages against B. Damages
Personal injury plaintiffs in Washington DC are entitled to recover all the normal types of tort damages such as lost income or wages; past and future medical expenses; and pain and suffering. Unlike other states, DC law does not impose any caps or limitations on the maximum amount of damages that can be awarded in any type of tort case. Washington DC also allows punitive damages to be awarded when there is "clear evidence" of recklessness or willful disregard. Infliction of Emotional Distress
Washington DC allows tort claims based on emotional injury alone without any related physical injury, but only under the limited "zone of danger" rule. Under this rule a plaintiff must be within the "zone of physical danger" such that they feared for their personal safety. DC law also allows mental distress claims for intentional torts. These are fairly limited scenarios so you don't see many cases based on purely emotional distress without physical injury. Dram Shop Liability
Dram shop liability refers to lawsuits against alcohol serving business like bars, nightclubs, taverns, etc. for negligently overserving a patron and getting them too drunk. DC law allows alcoholic beverage vendors to be held liable if a patron get intoxicated and injures someone as a result. See Zhou v. Jennifer Mall Restaurant Inc, 534 A.2d 1268 (D.C. 1987) The classic example of this is where a bar continues to serve alcohol to an intoxicated patron and then that patron drives home drunk and hurts or kills someone on the road. When this happens DC law allows the person injured in the drunk driving accident to sue the bar. Hire Miller & Zois for Your DC Personal Injury Case
We handle tort claims in the District. If you have been injured, call our lawyers at 800-553-8082 or select here for a free consultation.