District of Columbia Medical Malpractice Summary

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Statutes of Limitations

The statute of limitations that applies to medical malpractice actions in the District of Columbia is the three-year statute contained in D.C. Code Ann. § 12-301 (1995). The statute is measured from the time plaintiff knows or with the exercise of due diligence should know of the injury. Stager v. Schneider, 494 A.2d 1307 (D.C. 1985). Claimants who are either under the age of eighteen, mentally incompetent, or imprisoned may bring their action within three years following the removal of their disability. D.C. Code Ann. § 12-302 (1995).

A wrongful death action must be brought within one year of the date of death. D.C. Code Ann. § 16-2702 (1997).

Contributory or Comparative Negligence

The District of Columbia follows the doctrine of contributory negligence, and applies it in medical malpractice cases. Stager v. Schneider, 494 A.2d 1307 (D.C. 1985). Thus, a claimant’s contributory negligence bars his recovery entirely.

Joint and Several Liability

In the District of Columbia, joint tortfeasors are jointly and severally liable for a claimant’s compensatory damages, and damages cannot be allocated. Remeikis v. Boss & Phelps, Inc., 419 A.2d 986 (D.C. 1980). Liability for punitive damages is several, and is apportioned by relative fault. Id.


Joint tortfeasors that pay more than their pro rata share have a right of contribution. See Berg v. Footer, 673 A.2d 1244 (D.C. 1996); Rose v. Associated Anesthesiologists, 501 F.2d 806 (D.C. Cir. 1974).

Vicarious Liability

A hospital may be liable under the theory of ostensible or apparent agency for the negligence of the hospital’s independently- contracted physicians. Street v. Washington Hosp. Center, 558 A.2d 690 (D.C. 1989) (recognizing the theory but not applying it under the facts of the case).

Expert Testimony

Expert testimony is generally required in order to establish a breach of the standard of care in medical malpractice actions. Robbins v. Footer, 553 F.2d 123 (D.C. Cir. 1977).

Damage Caps

The District of Columbia does not place a cap on the amount of damages recoverable in a medical malpractice action.

Statutory Cap on Attorneys’ Fees

The District of Columbia does not place a statutory cap on the fees an attorney may recover in a medical malpractice action.

Periodic Payments

The District of Columbia does not require the periodic payment of damages in medical malpractice actions.

Collateral Source Rule

The District of Columbia recognizes the rule barring evidence of payment from a collateral source. District of Columbia v. Jackson, 451 A.2d 867 (D.C. 1982). Thus, the claimant’s receipt of payments from collateral sources will not serve to reduce the claimant’s damages.

Pre-Judgment Interest

Whether pre-judgment interest is available in personal injury actions is unclear. However, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals has held that pre-judgment interest may be awarded for conversion, an action in tort involving property. See Duggan v. Keto, 554 A.2d 1126 (D.C. 1989) (disagreeing with Schneider v. Lockheed Aircraft Corp., 658 F.2d 835 (D.C. Cir. 1981), which held that neither District of Columbia statutory nor common law permits award of pre-judgment interest in tort actions).

Patient Compensation Funds and Physician Insurance

The District of Columbia does not have a patient compensation fund or a program of state-sponsored liability insurance for physicians.


The District of Columbia owes its medical employees a duty of indemnification in cases in which the District of Columbia is not a party and the alleged personal injury or death resulted from the employee’s negligent performance of his professional responsibilities, but only to the extent the employee is not covered by appropriate insurance. D.C. Code Ann. § 1-1215(b) (1992).

No action for unliquidated damages for personal injury may be instituted against the District of Columbia, unless notice of claim is made to the Mayor within six months from the date of injury. D.C. Code Ann. § 12-309 (1995). In addition, absent extraordinary circumstances, the District of Columbia is not liable for punitive damages. Smith v. District of Columbia, 336 A.2d 831 (D.C. 1975).


The District of Columbia has established a system of arbitration, under which all cases are eligible. D.C. Super. Ct. Civil Arb. Prog. Rules, Rule I et seq. (1997). The arbitrator’s award may be entered in court and has the same force and effect as a final judgment. Rule X. Following arbitration, every party is afforded the right to a subsequent civil trial, and while evidence admitted during the arbitration is admissible in the subsequent court proceeding, it cannot be identified as such and the arbitration cannot be mentioned. Id.

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Revision Date: February 6, 1998