Gus was a passenger in a friend’s car when they were coming home from a bar in Washington, D.C. Gus's friend had been drinking, and he hit a tree. Gus was not wearing his seat belt, and the collision caused him to suffer a broken right arm and leg.
The police came and arrested Gus’s friend for DWI, and called an ambulance for Gus. At the hospital, Gus’s arm and leg were put in casts, and he was given a referral to an orthopedist for follow-up. His arm was in a cast for six weeks and his leg was casted for eight weeks. After he gut out of each cast, he went to physical therapy for a month to regain his strength and flexibility. Gus is a waiter who missed ten weeks of work due to the accident.
Learn more about Car Accident Passenger Injury Claims.
Even though the District of Columbia is a no-fault car insurance jurisdiction, Gus needs to be aware of D.C.’s statute of limitations, which is a law that sets a three-year deadline for filing a lawsuit over car accident injuries, whether the injured person was a driver, passenger, pedestrian, or property owner.
Why is this law so important? If your injuries are serious enough that the District of Columbia’s no-fault insurance system permits you to make a claim against the at-fault driver, but you don’t file a lawsuit within the three-year time period, you'll almost certainly lose your right to file it at all. That means you'll be left with no legal remedy for your injuries and other losses.
More: D.C. Car Accident Laws.
If Gus’s injuries are serious enough to permit him to file a lawsuit against the other driver (rather than simply making a no-fault claim under his own insurance coverage; more on this in the next section), he needs to be aware of the District of Columbia’s shared fault rules, because the insurer could claim that Gus was negligent himself for not wearing a seat belt and possibly even for getting into the car with someone he knew was intoxicated.
DC follows a very strict rule if
you are found to be partially at fault for causing a car accident. Under
DC’s “contributory negligence” rule, you cannot receive money damages
if you are found to have been even the slightest bit at fault in the
accident. Even if you prove that the other driver was negligent, and you
are only found to be 1% at fault, you can’t recover anything. So, even
in a case like Gus’s where the driver was drunk, you want to make
absolutely sure that the adjuster knows that you were not at fault.
(Learn more about Proving Fault for a Car Accident.)
The District of Columbia’s no-fault car insurance rules mean that, if you are injured in a car accident in Washington, you typically need to handle any claim under the terms of your own no-fault coverage. You can’t ordinarily make a claim against the other driver unless your injuries and medical treatment qualify to let you do so, which, in the District of Columbia, means one of the following:
In Gus’s case, his arm and leg were in casts for six weeks and two months, respectively, so let’s assume that his injuries meet the threshold for being able to make a liability claim against the driver under the District of Columbia’s no-fault law. His out-of-pocket (compensatory) damages total $27,500. The breakdown looks like this:
Gus and his attorney decide that another $75,000 in damages is appropriate to compensate for Gus’s pain and suffering in connection with the accident, and they make an initial demand of $100,000 to settle the claim. After negotiating with the insurance adjuster, Gus accepts a final settlement of $65,000.
As mentioned above, you want to settle your claim or file a lawsuit (or at least turn the case over to a lawyer) well before the statute of limitations expires. But you also don’t want to settle it too early -- meaning before you are either fully recovered or are as good as you are going to get. This is known as reaching "maximum medical improvement" or MMI. In Gus’s case, he was at MMI, and so he was ready to settle.
Learn more about Settling a Car Accident Case.