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Virginia & D.C. Car Accidents: The Importance Of Adhering To Statutes Of Limitation

UPDATED: August 5, 2019

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When you’re in a car accident, the law provides you with an opportunity to bring a lawsuit against the person, or persons, who injured you. However, each state sets time limits in which you can do so. Known as statutes of limitation, these time limits are important to adhere to – or you may risk losing the chance for your day in court.

Attorney Doug Stevens

Doug Stevens, an attorney who has practiced law for 30 years and whose firm focuses on personal injury and car accident matters in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, knows which statutes of limitation apply like the back of his hand. He explained how these limitations are applied in the District of Columbia and Virginia:

  • District of Columbia.

    In the District of Columbia, you have three years to file suit for negligence. Of course, if you represent a minor, the three years doesn’t start to run until his 18th birthday. That changes when the accident involved a wrongful death – and only a fool would wait more than a year to file a wrongful death case in the District of Columbia, but again, when someone dies in the District of Columbia, there are two causes of action. There’s a wrongful death action and a survival action. It has been held that a survival action can be filed after a year goes by, but it would be unwise to do so, absent special circumstances.

  • Virginia

    Virginia is the trickiest of the three jurisdictions that I practice in because in Virginia, you have two years to file suit for injury, which is a full year less than Maryland or the District of Columbia. However, you have five years to sue for property damage. If you split a cause of action and take that action to verdict, you are barred from subsequently bringing the cause of action on the other part of the claim.

    What do I mean by that? What I mean is that if you sue me for bodily injury and get a verdict for that and then subsequently sue me for property damage, I would be successful in saying to your lawyer that he or she should not have split your causes of action. Since the property damage arose out of the same occurrence, he or she should have brought the property damage action in the personal injury suit – even though there was a separate five-year statute of limitations on property damage. So, this comes into play when someone is only suing for property damage.

Don’t miss the deadline

Stevens can’t stress the importance of not missing the deadline enough. He says that he even gets calls from his colleagues sometimes because, unlike him, they’ve missed the date. He explained:

I had a colleague that mailed the suit in, but mailed it to the wrong address and it wasn’t filed. I was one of his first calls because he was lamenting. I explained to him that although he had given up his client’s injury claim in the case, the property damage piece was actually worth more than the injury claim. He was overjoyed to realize that he still had a property cause of action.”

In addition, there’s another issue that comes up when you’re disengaging from representing a minor. Let’s suppose I’m representing you for your three-year-old injury claim. Do I tell you that you are free to wait 15 years to file a claim? Only a fool would wait 15 years to file a claim and risk an adverse witness disappearing, but that’s the law. That’s the rule and it gets very complicated.

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