Washington DC Medical Malpractice Lawsuits and Verdicts

On this page, our lawyers will look at medical malpractice lawsuits in Washington DC. We provide an overview of the applicable DC law relevant to medical malpractice; the most common types of malpractice claims brought in DC; and how medical malpractice cases are generally resolved in the DC judicial system.

Washington, D.C. is a very unique jurisdiction. Unlike traditional states, it boasts its own distinct territory complete with revenues, elected representatives, and legal statutes. What sets D.C. apart is its status as a singular city, spanning 68 square miles and home to 700,000 residents, while simultaneously serving as the nation’s capital. These dual characteristics shape every aspect of Washington, D.C., from its governance to its legal framework concerning personal injury and civil justice.

Healthcare Professionals and Doctors in DC

Just like a state, Washington DC has a regulatory system for and rules for doctors and medical professionals. DC has its own professional licensing system for doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals practicing medicine within DC. The DC Board of Medicine, a division of the DC Department of Health, is responsible for licensing and regulation of medical professionals. Licensed healthcare providers in DC can be searched here: Search for DC Healthcare Professional.

Who Can Be Sued for Medical Malpractice in DC?

DC law states that any licensed medical practitioner (doctors, nurses, therapists, hospitals, etc.) can be sued and held liable for medical malpractice towards a patient. This encompasses not just conventional professionals like doctors, nurses, and physician’s assistants, but also unconventional medical practitioners such as chiropractors, EMTs, and acupuncturists. Anyone who is required to be licensed to practice in DC can be liable for medical malpractice. The range of potential defendants in D.C. medical malpractice cases extends to corporate or institutional healthcare providers such as hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospices, and urgent care facilities.

DC Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice

All states in the U.S. have laws in place setting time limits for potential plaintiffs to initiate personal injury claims or lawsuits. These laws, commonly known as statutes of limitations, also exist in Washington DC. DC has its own specific statutes governing tort claims within the district. For medical malpractice cases, the statute of limitations in DC is 3 years from the date that the “claim accrues.” DC Code § 12-301.

A 3-year statute of limitations does NOT simply mean that a malpractice lawsuit must be filed within 3 years of the incident. The 3 years begins to run when the “claim accrues,” which is a complex concept. Like many other states, DC follows the so-called “discovery rule” for determining when a claim accrues. Under this rule, the 3-year limitation period doesn’t commence at the time of the malpractice but rather upon the date when the plaintiff becomes aware, or reasonably should have become aware, that they were the victim of medical malpractice. In other words, the 3-years starts when the plaintiff should have reasonably discovered that they had a potential malpractice lawsuit.

While a majority of states adhere to the discovery rule for limitations periods, the DC Court of Appeals has developed a distinctly plaintiff-friendly interpretation of this rule, making it more feasible for malpractice victims to pursue legal action even after the initial 3-year period has elapsed. Additionally, DC law provides an exception to the statute of limitations for minors. If the victim of medical malpractice is under 18 at the time of the incident, the limitations period is “tolled,” allowing them until their 21st birthday to file their claim.

No Certificate of Merit Required

Most states have adopted rules that require plaintiffs to obtain and file a certificate of merit before filing a medical malpractice case. The certificate of merit is basically an statement by a medical professional certifying that they reviewed the medical records and it appears that medical negligence occurred.

DC is one of the only jurisdictions in the country which does not require a certificate of merit mandate for medical malpractice cases. Plaintiffs in DC can file malpractice cases without obtaining formal certification from another physician. Instead, DC law mandates medical malpractice plaintiffs to provide 90 days’ written notice to intended defendants and undergo a preliminary non-binding arbitration procedure before advancing with a lawsuit. This streamlined process facilitates a comparatively quicker initiation of medical malpractice lawsuits in DC, distinguishing it from other states.

Contributory Negligence in DC

The District of Columbia is one of only four states still adhering to the conventional tort principle of contributory negligence. Under this doctrine, if a plaintiff’s negligence contributes in any manner to their injury, they may be entirely barred from recovering damages. In its strictest interpretation, contributory negligence can be exceedingly harsh on tort plaintiffs. Yet, in DC, both juries and, to a lesser extent, judges commonly refrain from strictly applying this rule. This tendency is particularly evident in medical malpractice cases, where plaintiffs are typically less likely to have contributed to the harm in question.

No Caps on Damages for Medical Malpractice in DC

Most states have enacted laws which put strict limits on the amount of damages (money) plaintiffs can get in medical malpractice lawsuits. DC is one of the few jurisdictions that does not have any caps or limits on damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. This significantly increases the potential settlement value of DC malpractice cases.

Common Types of Medical Malpractice in Washington DC

Medical malpractice encompasses a wide array of contexts and situations, yet the types of medical negligence leading to malpractice lawsuits typically fall into identifiable categories. However, in Washington, D.C., the landscape of malpractice cases is somewhat different for various reasons. First, the annual volume of medical malpractice cases filed in DC is relatively small, and only a small handful of those cases actually go to trial.

Also, the uniquely urban nature of DC inherently translates to a higher incidence of cases involving hospitals and significant procedures. Given that major hospitals are often situated in metropolitan areas, individuals seeking major surgeries frequently opt for facilities in large cities like DC. As a result, a large proportion of malpractice cases in DC revolve around surgical errors or negligence in hospital care.

Washington DC Medical Malpractice Verdicts & Settlements

Below are summaries of settlements and verdicts from medical malpractice cases in Washington DC. This is a fairly limited sample, mainly because the volume of malpractice cases in DC is comparatively low.

$2,100,000 Verdict (2023): The plaintiff was seen at the emergency department of defendant hospital due to hip pain. She said that after three employees of the defendant unsuccessfully attempted to draw blood from her left arm, another employee used considerable force and speed in inserting a needle into her arm in an attempt to draw blood. The plaintiff reportedly suffered permanent nerve damage to her left arm.

$14,300,000 Verdict (2020): Following a routine mammogram interpreted as normal by a radiologist, a woman received a Stage IV mammary carcinoma diagnosis one year later. Subsequently, she underwent intensive treatments, including radiation therapy and multiple hospital stays. Alleging negligence on the part of the radiologist for not suspecting cancer and ordering further tests, the woman pursued legal action. The DC jury ruled in her favor, awarding $14.3 million.

$3,600,000 Verdict (2019): A premature infant, receiving nutrition and antibiotics through an IV line, experienced chemical burns with infiltration on her right ankle. As a result, the girl endured scarring on her right ankle. Her parents filed a negligence lawsuit against the hospital, alleging that its staff neglected to adequately monitor their daughter, failed to remove the IV when ankle puffiness was observed, and did not promptly administer treatments for the chemical burns.

$860,000 Settlement (2019): After a breast cancer screening where the radiologist reported no abnormalities, a woman received a breast cancer diagnosis ten months later. Subsequently, she underwent various medical interventions, including mastectomies, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, reconstructive surgery, and an oophorectomy. Alleging negligence against the radiologist for purportedly failing to accurately interpret her studies, order additional imaging studies, and refer her to a surgeon, the woman pursued legal action. Ultimately, she reached a settlement of $680,000.

$8,000,000 Verdict (2018): The 65-year-old plaintiff asserted that he experienced a rectal perforation resulting in a rectourethral fistula due to the defendants’ alleged mishandling during his retropubic prostatectomy surgery. He claimed that they not only failed to perform the surgery properly but also neglected to promptly identify the perforation once it had occurred. In response, the defendants refuted any liability, arguing that they adhered to the standard of care, conducted the surgery correctly, and promptly identified the rectal injury.

Contact Our DC Medical Malpractice Lawyers

Our lawyers regularly handle medical malpractice cases in Washington DC. If you have been injured, call our lawyers at 800-553-8082 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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