For many personal injury victims, one of the more daunting aspects of resolving their personal injury matter is retaining an attorney to help them with their case. Often, personal injury victims believe that they can wade their way through the complex world of litigation on their own, however, the rules of litigation and civil procedure often hamper their efforts. The District of Columbia is not any different. The District of Columbia Rules of Civil Procedure impose many rules and deadlines on the parties, and personal injury victims (and many attorneys) often need a refresher course.
As a threshold matter, the District of Columbia is a very simple court system in terms of structure and jurisdiction, with respect to civil matters. There are three basic parts to the District’s court system. There is the Small Claims and Conciliation Branch of the Superior Court, which has jurisdiction over all cases where the amount in question is $5,000 or less. Then there is the Superior Court for the District of Columbia, which for our purposes has exclusive jurisdiction for all cases where the amount in question is over $5,000. Above the Superior Court exists the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
That’s it. That’s the list.
Therefore, the majority of all personal jurisdiction cases will begin in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia, which provides many pitfalls for both the personal injury victim representing themselves, or the experienced attorney.
Once a Complaint is filed in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia, the Plaintiff has 60 days to serve the Defendant and to file proof of service on each Defendant. If such proof of service is not filed within the 60 day period, the case will be dismissed without prejudice (unlike some jurisdictions where the summons expires and a new summons can be re-issued).
Provided the personal injury victim or their attorney has the Defendant served and has filed the necessary proof of service, the next step in a District of Columbia Civil case is the Initial Scheduling conference. At this hearing, the attorneys and the court select a “Track” for the case. Parties can select one of three “tracks,” Track I, II or III. The Track is a Scheduling Order, setting forth the dates by which discovery must be completed and/or pleadings are to be filed with the Court. For most personal injury cases, Track II is selected.
The Scheduling Order sets forth the following dates: First is the date by which Discovery Requests and Witness Lists are to be filed, as well as the Plaintiff’s 26(b)(4) Statement (Expert witness designation) is to be filed. Therefore all written discovery, motions for examinations, and fact witness lists must be filed by this date. Of most importance is the filing of the Plaintiff’s 26(b)(4) statement. In nearly all personal injury cases, the Plaintiff will require the testimony of a doctor to substantiate their claim for damages. If the doctor(s) are not identified in accordance with the Scheduling Order, the personal injury victim might very well ruin their case. This date is crucial to any personal injury litigation in the District of Columbia.
The next date of is the date by which the Defendant must designate their expert. Again, if a Defendant, in a personal injury litigation, wants to set up a Defendant’s Medical Exam, this doctor must be identified by this date. Failure to do so allows Plaintiff’s attorneys to exclude the doctor from offering an expert opinion on any claim or affirmative defense.
The order then sets forth the dates for the close of discovery, the filing of dispositive motions and the date by which such motions are to be decided.
The other date of note on the Scheduling order is the “ADR (Mediation/Case Evaluation)” date. The Superior Court for the District of Columbia has instituted mandatory mediations in civil cases, and personal injury cases are no exception. Through the Court’s Multi-Door Mediation program, instituted in 1985, all civil cases are submitted to at least one mediation session prior to trial. Here’s the link to the Multi-Door Program
According to “Two Decades of ADR Use in the Courts,” the Multi-Door program processed 130,000 cases through its system in the District of Columbia in 1996 alone. FindLaw Article
If the parties cannot resolve their matter at the mediation hearing, then they are rewarded with a Pre-Trial date, and the litigation continues until trial.
As the above entry indicates, there are a variety of instances where the pro se personal injury victim, and even the established personal injury attorney, can make a simple mistake with the Scheduling Order that has disastrous implications for the Plaintiff’s case. This is, therefore, another example of why the personal injury victim is in a better position having an experienced attorney at their side, fighting for their rights.