Car Accident Laws in D.C.

These District of Columbia laws could have a big impact on your insurance claim or lawsuit after a car accident.

Updated by , J.D.
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  • After a car accident in Washington D.C., the district's car insurance requirements, time limits for taking a car accident case to court, and rules on shared fault for an accident will likely affect your options.

    Washington D.C.'s Car Insurance Rules

    If you're involved in a car accident in D.C. and you've got car insurance in the district, the most important thing to understand is how the rules set out in D.C.'s Compulsory/No-Fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act might impact any claim you decide to make.

    Like almost every state, D.C. requires that vehicles registered and driven in the district be insured in the event of an accident. Liability insurance is required, and will cover car accident injuries, vehicle damage, and other losses resulting from an accident caused by the insured person.

    But personal injury protection (no-fault) car insurance must be offered to customers who are buying car insurance in D.C. And after a car accident, vehicle owners who purchased no-fault have 60 days to choose whether to receive no-fault benefits through their own coverage, or file a claim against the at-fault driver. Get more details on Washington D.C.'s car insurance rules and requirements.

    How Long Do I Have to File a Car Accident Lawsuit in D.C.?

    In Washington, D.C., you have three years after a car accident occurs to file a lawsuit for personal injuries or for damage to property (D.C. Code section 12-301).

    Note: If you've been in an accident involving a government vehicle, employee, or property, you'll need to file an incident claim with the right government agency in order to protect your rights, and you'll need to do it quickly. Our article on Accidents Involving the Government: Claim Basics provides more information on personal injury claims against government entities.

    What If I'm Partly At Fault for My D.C. Car Accident?

    In most states, when a driver is partially at fault for causing an accident, he or she can still recover compensation from other at-fault drivers, although the amount of recoverable damages is usually reduced. Washington, D.C. follows a stricter rule.

    The District of Columbia is one of the few places left in the nation where courts follow a "contributory negligence" rule. In these states, you can only recover in a personal injury lawsuit if you bear no fault whatsoever for causing the accident that injured you.

    How does this rule work in practice? Suppose you're injured in a crash with another driver. You take your case to court, where the jury decides that the total amount of your losses from the crash (your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and all your other "damages") add up to $100,000. However, the jury also decides, based on the evidence, that you were 10 percent at fault for the crash. Under D.C.'s contributory negligence rule, that 10 percent of fault the jury ascribed to you means that your damages award drops to zero, and you'll recover nothing.

    This is a tough rule to beat, and insurance adjusters keep it in mind when negotiating a settlement with a claimant who likely bears some amount of fault (however small) for the underlying car accident.

    If you've been involved in a car accident in Washington, D.C., and you'd like to understand more about your legal options and your best path forward, it might make sense to reach out to an attorney in your area. You can use the chat tools right on this page to connect with a lawyer, or learn more about hiring and working with a car accident attorney.

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