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 free consultation.