Common Mistakes in DC Wrongful Death Cases
What is a Wrongful Death?
Wrongful Death is a legal term, and attempts to put into organized thoughts and processes the immense pain and loss felt by those who have lost a loved one. No legal term can truly encapsulate what a grieving family is going through, however.
Wrongful Death is a claim that is had by loved one's when someone dies as a the result of someone else's negligence. This is a civil action, and completely independent of any criminal investigation or proceeding (if any). There are many kinds of wrongful death claims. Many of these stem from car accidents and truck accidents. People can be killed as pedestrians, too. Sometimes, these deaths do not involve motor vehicles, but businesses: falling debris from a construction site, slip and falls, and other tragic incidents.
When a loved one dies, emotions run high, and most family members - understandably - are only concerned with the process of grieving. But sometimes, not speaking to an attorney right away can have serious repercussions when the family has dealt with the grief, and wants to get justice for their lost loved one.
Here are some common pitfalls in trying to bring a wrongful death claim.
Mistake 1 - Waiting Too Long
One has to get a good attorney on the case right away. The longer you wait, the more chance you have of vital evidence and/or testimony disappearing, or merely being lost in the shuffle. Evidence comes in many forms, and includes pictures, witness statements, measurements, scene investigations, forensic examinations, and more.
As time passes, our memories change, or get clouded by other incidents. This happens frequently, and this includes to witnesses, even of tragic events. At Blaszkow Legal, we often find that Wrongful Death cases can be won or lost on good witness testimony. So it is essential that we get to work right away, so we can interview people who know something - anything - about the incident, and the facts surrounding it. We preserve these interviews it witness statements and affidavits, that may be used at trial.
Oftentimes, we have to reconstruct the scene of the accident or incident. This requires sending out a reconstructionist or other forensic expert to take measurements and a detailed analysis of the scene, so that complex calculations can be made, such as feet per second and such. However, as we know from living in a metropolitan area, things change. Lampposts can fall down or be moved, buildings get demolished, and the landscape of the city changes. The longer we wait, the more chance we have of something changing the area where the death happened, and defense attorneys can use this to allege that the entire reconstruction was based on a faulty premise.
Mistake 2 - Picking the Wrong Lawyer
Not all attorneys are the same. You would not get your nails done by your mechanic! Even within the realm of personal injury attorneys, some focus their practice on medical malpractice cases, and are unused to the facts that need to proven in, say, a wrongful death arising out of a DC Car Accident. It is important to find a good attorney who has worked wrongful death cases, and won.
Our attorneys at Blaszkow Legal PLLC have experience in handling many different types of wrongful death cases, from car and truck crashes, to motorcycle wrecks, to pedestrian strikes, and more.
Mistake 3 - Missing the Statute of Limitations
We understand that grief does not disappear over night. However, we have found that some clients have waited for more than 5 years to consult regarding the loss of a loved one. This is tragic, because any claim for wrongful death in Washington, DC has to be filed within the statute of limitations.
We have also seen that people do internet searches, and think that there is one statute of limitations in DC, with unfortunate consequences. It is true that the statute of limitations for DC car accident claims is three years. However, if that car accident resulted in a death, then the wrongful death claim has to be filed within two years. This is pursuant to the DC Wrongful Death Act of 2012 (DC Code § 16–2702).
Hiring a competent attorney as soon as possible will prevent the case from being denied and ignored, because a statute of limitations was "blown."
Mistake 4 - Assuming That the Criminal Case Will Preserve the Civil Case
A person who causes a death because of, for example, a DUI, will be prosecuted criminally. If in DC, that prosecution will be done through the US Attorneys Office. Those attorneys, however, are only interested in prosecuting the offender, meaning they will work to get that person tried and convicted, and if possible, sent to jail. That prosecution is completely separate from a civil case. Because of the overworked DC Court System (between DC Superior Court and the US District Court for DC), these prosecutions can drag on for years.
A civil action is completely independent from a criminal case. Just because the US Attorneys Office is prosecuting the DUI driver in our example, does not mean that the civil statute of limitations is "tolled," or held up. You must hire an attorney to represent your family's interest in the civil case.
There are many things that can happen to delay, or interfere, with pursuing a Wrongful Death claim. Some of these are understandable. You want a compassionate, but experienced attorney to preserve your family's rights so that you can grieve in peace, but be able to pursue the civil claim when you and your family are ready. Call Blaszkow Legal for a free DC wrongful death consultation (also Virginia and Maryland) today: 703-879-5910
DC Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations: https://code.dccouncil.gov/us/dc/council/code/sections/16-2702