By: Allan M. Siegel
As a general rule, if a person is negligent in a way that injures someone
else, the injured person has a right to sue the wrongdoer for damages.
But that usual rule breaks down when the wrongdoer is an employee of the
District of Columbia, such as a police officer, firefighter, or ambulance
personnel. For several decades, the D.C. Court of Appeals has applied
the “public duty doctrine,” which largely makes District employees
immune from lawsuits. For example, the D.C. Court of Appeals has held
that police officers could not be sued after they prevented civilians
with SCUBA gear from saving persons who drowned in the Potomac River after
a helicopter crash.
This year, finally, it appeared likely that the D.C. Court of Appeals would
overturn or at least narrow the public duty doctrine, in a couple of cases
that involved emergency medical personnel who failed to take basic steps
to save dying victims. However, while the cases are still pending, the
City Council has stepped in with emergency legislation that would prevent
the D.C. Court of Appeals from changing the public duty doctrine, thus
entrenching the right of District employees to negligently harm citizens
without being held accountable.
Time will tell whether District employees will be treated like everyone
else in courts of law. In the meantime, if you have been injured by the
negligence of a District employee, you should contact the personal injury
attorneys at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., for a