For months, the coronavirus pandemic practically shut down the courts in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. Most importantly, the courts were not holding trials. Thankfully, with increasing vaccination rates, the courts are back open (masks required), hearing cases, and holding trials. And with the courts reopened, the deadlines to file lawsuits are back in effect.
Fortunately, the pandemic actually brought some positive changes in how courts are handling cases. Now, a wide range of court hearings, depositions, and trials are held virtually, online. This benefits plaintiffs and their witnesses, making it more convenient and less expensive to file and prosecute a lawsuit.
There are also other legal changes in the DMV area you should be aware of, that make it easier to obtain justice if you are hurt or harmed by the wrongdoing of others. Some examples include:
- In the District of Columbia, a person injured by someone else’s negligence generally is not legally entitled to any compensation if the injured person was even slightly at fault as well (“contributory negligence”). This contributory negligence law bars you from a recovery if you were even 1% at fault. But in 2016, D.C. modified this rule for pedestrians and bicyclists injured by cars on the road. Now, their contributory negligence does not bar them from compensation if the other party was mostly at fault. (The injured party must be less than 50% at fault). Recently, in 2021, the DC Council passed the “Vulnerable User Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2020”, which extends this modified rule to other “vulnerable users” of our roadways and sidewalks, including electronic bicycles, scooters, and motorcycles.
- Also, in the District of Columbia, thanks to a recently passed law, it is now easier than ever to serve a lawsuit in an automobile case, against a defendant who resides in D.C. Normally, it is necessary to personally serve a lawsuit on the defendant. But under the new law, if personal service proves impossible, the court can permit service using a more convenient method, approved by the court, so long as the Court concludes that this alternative method, will lead to the defendant getting notice of the lawsuit.
- Virginia has two types of trial courts in which you can file a personal injury lawsuit: The Circuit Court, and the General District Court. The advantage of the General District Court is that it is faster and less expensive to bring a case. Until recently a plaintiff filing a lawsuit in General District Court could only obtain a maximum recovery of $25,000. However, starting July 1, 2021, Virginia raised that limit to $50,000.
- Similarly, in Maryland, a plaintiff can file in the Circuit Court or, for a cheaper and faster case, the District Court, which can hear claims as large as $30,000. However, for any claim greater than $15,000, the defendant can move the case to the Circuit Court. A new proposed constitutional amendment would raise that limit from $15,000 to $25,000, making it easier to keep your case in the District Court. We are hopeful that this proposed amendment passes.
- There are also laws in the DMV area that enable lawsuits you may not be aware of. For example, under the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act, if you are economically harmed by a deceptive trade practice, you may recover up to triple your losses, plus punitive damages (an award intended to punish the wrongdoer) and recover your attorney fees. In Virginia, a victim of violence or harassment motivated by bigotry (racial/ethnic, religious, gender, disability, or sexual orientation-related) can bring a case and may be able to recover punitive damages and attorney fees.
We are excited about all these laws, and the beginning of jury trials in our Courts. If you have any questions about any of these laws, or the current operating status of the Courts, please do not hesitate to call or email us. Don’t assume that justice is unavailable just because the pandemic is still with us.