If you've had your property damaged in Washington, D.C., you might be considering bringing a civil lawsuit against the person you think is to blame for what happened. In that situation, it's critical to understand the district's statute of limitations for property damage lawsuits, whether your potential case involves real property (damage to your house or your land) or personal property (including vehicle damage).
In case you’re not familiar with the term, a "statute of limitations" is a law that affects your right to file a lawsuit over any kind of legal dispute or harm suffered, by putting a limit on how much time can pass before you bring the case to court. Every jurisdiction has these laws on the books, with different time limits depending on the kind of case being filed.
In the sections that follow, we'll explain the property damage lawsuit filing deadline in Washington D.C., the consequences of missing the deadline, and a few rare circumstances that might serve to extend the deadline.
In Washington D.C., there is a three-year deadline for any lawsuit "for the recovery of damages for an injury to real or personal property." That means, any property owner seeking compensation for the repair or replacement of damaged or destroyed property in the district -- whether real property or personal property -- has three years to get his or her lawsuit filed in D.C.'s civil courts. You can find this law at D.C. Code section 12-301.
If you try to file your property damage lawsuit after the year-year time window has closed, the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) will almost certainly make a motion asking the court to dismiss the case. And the court will grant the dismissal (except in rare instances where an extension is proper; more on this later). If that happens, you've essentially lost your right to any legal remedy for your damaged property. That's why it's crucial to pay attention to and comply with this law.
For most kinds of civil lawsuits in Washington D.C. -- including property damage claims -- a number of situations could effectively extend the lawsuit filing deadline as laid out in the statute of limitations.
First, if the property owner is under a legal disability at the time his or her property is damaged or destroyed in D.C., once that disability is removed, the property owner (or a legal representative of the property owner) has the full three years to get their lawsuit filed.
So, what kind of legal disability qualifies? In the District of Columbia, for purposes of the statute of limitations, "under a legal disability" means the property owner is:
Another opportunity to extend the deadline exists if the defendant is a D.C. resident but is out of the district at the time the property damage lawsuit "accrues" (meaning the property owner's right to file it arises) or if the defendant has concealed him/herself within the district. In those situations, the three-year clock does not start ticking until the defendant returns to the district or ends his/her concealment. (D.C. Code section 12-303.)
Other circumstances may affect the Washington D.C. statute of limitations, but they're too complicated to cover in this article. If you've got questions about the statute of limitations as it applies to your potential property damage lawsuit -- especially if the filing deadline is fast approaching -- an experienced District of Columbia attorney will have the answers. Learn more about Finding an Excellent Lawyer.