What is the Car Accident Statute of Limitations in Washington, D.C.?
Let's start by explaining that a "statute of limitations" is a state law that puts a time limit on a prospective plaintiff's right to file a lawsuit after suffering some type of harm or loss -- like an injury or vehicle damage after a car accident, for example. The filing deadlines usually differ depending on the type of case you want to bring.
The statute of limitations for most Washington D.C. car accident lawsuits is the same as the larger one that applies to personal injury cases filed in the district. Specifically, D.C. Code section 12-301 requires that a lawsuit for personal injury or injury to property be filed within three years. Obviously, that includes any injury or property damage claim brought by a driver, passenger, pedestrian, or bicyclist after a car accident. For cases like this, the statute of limitations "clock" starts running on the date of the crash.
But the deadline is different if someone died as a result of the accident and their family or representative wants to file a Washington D.C. wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault driver. Under D.C. Code section 16-2702, that kind of case must be filed within two years, and the "clock" starts on the date of the deceased person's death, which could be different from the date of the accident.
(Note: Whether the car accident results in an injury or a death, the case will hinge on the plaintiff's ability to prove that someone's negligence was the cause of the crash. Learn more about Car Accidents Caused by Negligence.)
If you try to file your lawsuit after the statute of limitations deadline has passed, the person you are trying to sue will ask the court to dismiss the case, and the court will almost certainly grant that request. That's why it's crucial to understand and abide by the statute of limitations as it applies to your potential lawsuit.
From a strategy standpoint, it's a good idea to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit, even if you are confident your case will reach a satisfactory settlement. At the very least, keeping the lawsuit option open will give you more leverage during settlement negotiations. If the statute of limitations deadline is coming up, it may be time to contact an experienced D.C. car accident attorney.
by: David Goguen, J.D.