District of Columbia
Statutes of Limitations (DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA)
Personal Injury - 3 yrs. [DC ST § 12-301]
Wrongful Death - 2 yrs. (from time of death) [DC ST § 16-2702]
Property Damage - 3 yrs. [DC ST § 12-301]
Contracts (Oral and Written) - 3 yrs. [DC ST § 12-301]
Contracts for Sale (goods) and Breach of Warranty - 4 yrs. (from tender of delivery) [DC ST § 28:2-725]. Note: Product Liability Breach-of-Warranty Claims involving Personal Injury or Property Damage may fall under 3-yr. statute of limitations [DC ST § 12-301; Grigsby v. Sterling Drug, Inc., 128 F.Supp. 242 (D.D.C. 1975)].
When the relationship between the fact of injury and alleged tortuous conduct is obscure, a court determines when the claim accrues through application of the “discovery rule,” and the statute of limitations will not run until Plaintiffs know or reasonably should have known that they suffered injury due to Defendants’ wrongdoing [Mullin v. Washington Free Weekly, Inc., 785 A.2d 296 (D.C. 2001)].
Statute of Repose (Products) (DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA)
Admissibility of Expert Testimony (DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA)
Daubert test applied; Rule 702 of Federal Rules of Evidences has been adopted. [Motorola Inc. v. Murray, 147 A.3d 751 (D.C. 2016)]. Under Fed Rules Evid. Rule 702, a witness who is qualified as an expert may testify if: (1) his scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue; (2) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data; (3) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and (4) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.
Causes of Action (DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA)
Strict Liability – A merchant who sells an unreasonably dangerous product to a consumer is liable for resultant injuries, regardless of fault or privity of contract [McNeal v. Hi-Lo Powered Scaffolding, Inc., 836 F.2d 637 (D.C. Cir. 1988)]. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit recognized a cause of action for strict liability in tort based on the principles of Rest. (2nd) of Torts, 402A. A plaintiff must prove that: (1) the seller was engaged in the business of selling the product that caused the harm; (2) the product was sold in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the consumer or user; (3) the product was one which the seller expected to and did reach the plaintiff without any substantial change from the condition in which it was sold; and (4) the defect was a direct and proximate cause of the plaintiffs injuries. A product may be found defective in any of three ways: (1) by defective design, (2) by defective manufacture, or (3) by failure of the producer to warn adequately of a risk related to the way the product was designed [Webster v. Pacesetter, Inc., 259 F. Supp. 2d 27 (D.D.C. 2003)].
Negligence – A manufacturer is under a duty to design a reasonably safe product. The manufacturer’s duty is one of reasonableness in designing the product so as to make it not accident-proof, but safe for the use for which it was intended. The manufacturer of a chattel will be liable for injuries to others expected to use the chattel when the injuries are caused by the lack of reasonable care in adopting a safe plan or design. This duty of care includes the adoption of reasonable safety devices. What constitutes reasonable care will vary with the circumstances and involves a balancing of the likelihood of harm and the gravity of harm if it happens, against the burden of precaution that would be effective to avoid the harm [Westinghouse Electric Corp. v. Nutt, 407 A.2d 606 (D.C. 1979)].
Breach of Warranty – The difference between strict liability in tort and implied warranty, if any, are conceptual. Where there are no issues unique to warranty, a claim of strict liability in tort is effectively made out in a complaint for breach of warranty. Breach of implied warranty and strict liability in tort are expressions of a single basic public policy as to liability for defective products. To a large extent the doctrines of implied warranty and strict liability in tort are but two labels for the same legal right and remedy, as the governing principles are identical. Under either theory, there is a liability imposed for injury caused by placing a defective product into the stream of commerce [Payne v. Soft Sheen Prods., 486 A.2d 712 (D.C. 1985); Wainwright v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., 903 F. Supp. 133 (D.D.C. Oct. 17, 1995)].
Definition of “Defect” (DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA)
A product may be found defective in any of three ways: (1) by defective design; (2) by defective manufacture; or (3) by failure of the producer or assembler to warn adequately of a risk related to the way the product was designed. A product is defective if it leaves seller’s hands in an unreasonably dangerous condition [Webster v. Pacesetter, Inc., 259 F. Supp. 2d 27 (D.D.C. 2003)].
Also, see discussion below re: "design defects."
Liability of Sellers (DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA)
Sellers are strictly liable [Stewart v. Ford Motor Co., 553 F.2d 130 (D.C. Cir. 1977)]. Sellers must be engaged in the business of selling such a product.
Defenses (DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA)
Contributory Negligence – District of Columbia follows strict contributory negligence (Plaintiff is barred from recovery even if 1% at fault) [Wingfield v. Peoples Drug Store, Inc., 379 A.2d 685 (D.C. 1977)]. Contributory negligence is a defense in a negligence action, but not in a strict liability action [McNeal v. Hi-Lo Powered Scaffolding, Inc., 836 F.2d 637 (D.C. Cir. 1988)].
Assumption of Risk – A complete bar to recovery in a strict liability action. Assumption of risk is an affirmative defense that, unlike contributory negligence, focuses on the injured party’s actual knowledge. Defendant must show that the plaintiff knew of the specific defect in the product and was aware of the danger arising from it, but nevertheless voluntarily and unreasonably proceeded to use the product [Warner Fruehauf Trailer Co. v. Boston, 654 A.2d 1272 (D.C. 1995)].
Product Misuse – Product Misuse is defined as use of a product in a manner that could not reasonably be foreseen by the defendant. Under both a negligence and a strict liability theory, the manufacturer has an obligation to anticipate reasonably foreseeable risks of harm arising in the course of proper use, and to warn of those risks. Proper use includes the incidental and attendant consequences that accompany normal use. Whether the injury arose out of proper use of the product, out of use that could reasonably have been foreseen by defendant, or out of product misuse, is a jury question [Payne v. Soft Sheen Prods., 486 A.2d 712 (D.C. 1985)].
Product Alteration/Modification – Plaintiff, as part of his prima facie case, must prove that the product reached the user without any substantial change from the condition in which it was sold [Warner Fruehauf Trailer Co. v. Boston, 654 A.2d 1272 (D.C. 1995)].
Economic Loss Doctrine (ELD) (Product Destroys Only Itself) (DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA)
Virtually no law is available. In cases involving negligent performance of contract, liability to third parties who suffer only economic loss depends on whether Defendant owed duty of reasonable care to Plaintiff; if no duty was owing, lack of contractual privity normally bars recovery [Aronoff v. Lenkin Co., 618 A.2d 669 (D.C. 1992)].
Malfunction Theory (Using Circumstantial Evidence to Prove Defect) (DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA)
Circumstantial evidence is admissible to prove the existence of a defect [Stewart v. Ford Motor Co., 553 F.2d 130 (D.C. Cir. 1977)].
Design Defects (DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA)
A product may be found defective by defective design [Webster v. Pacesetter, Inc., 259 F. Supp. 2d 27 (D.D.C. 2003)].
Pursuant to the strict liability principles, with respect to the requirement that the product be sold in a defective and unreasonably dangerous condition, District of Columbia Circuit applies the risk-utility balancing test to establish strict liability in tort. Under this risk-utility analysis, a plaintiff must show the risks, costs and benefits of the product in question and alternative designs and that the magnitude of the danger from the product outweighed the costs of avoiding the danger. A theory of strict liability does not impose upon a manufacturer liability for all harm resulting from his product. The product must be shown to be defective and the defect must render the product unreasonably dangerous. Evidence of a design alternative, by itself, is not sufficient to impose liability on the manufacturer. For purposes of imposing strict liability for a design defect, evidence that one alternative design was technically feasible, and perhaps safer, proves nothing with regard to the actual risk of the chosen design, nor the relative utilities of the alternative designs, nor the cost involved in adopting one design over the other [Webster v. Pacesetter, Inc., 259 F. Supp. 2d 27 (D.D.C. 2003)].
To prove that a plaintiff’s injuries were the result of a defendant's negligence, plaintiffs must make a sufficient showing that the defendant did not exercise reasonable care in adopting a safe design and that this failure to exercise reasonable care caused plaintiffs' injuries. Like the risk-utility test applied in a strict liability claim, determining what constitutes reasonable care involves a balancing of the likelihood of harm, and the gravity of the harm if it happens, against the burden of precaution which would be effective to avoid the harm. The same factors are considered in both a negligent design case and a strict liability case [Webster v. Pacesetter, Inc., 259 F. Supp. 2d 27 (D.D.C. 2003)].
A manufacturer is under a duty to design a reasonably safe product. This duty does not require the manufacturer to adopt every possible new device that might possibly have been conceived or invented. In a design case, liability is imposed only for the creation of an unreasonable danger. Thus, the manufacturer's duty is one of reasonableness in designing the product so as to make it not accident-proof, but safe for the use for which it was intended. “Intended use” is an adaptation of the basic test of reasonable foreseeability framed to fit the products liability context. The standard imposes upon the manufacturer the duty to guard against reasonably foreseeable risks of harm arising in the course of proper use [Westinghouse Electric Corp. v. Nutt, 407 A.2d 606 (D.C. 1979)].
Under a risk-utility analysis, a manufacturer is entitled to defend a strict liability claim based on defective design by showing there was a warning accompanied the product that reduced its dangers. A manufacturer could show that warnings "reduced" the dangers of its products, not that warnings could eliminate such dangers altogether. While the adequacy of a warning is relevant and may even tip the balance in the decision whether a product is or is not defectively designed, it is not the sole consideration. A warning is only one of a product's many design attributes that weigh in the balance of dangers against utility [Rogers v. Ingersoll-Rand Co., 144 F.3d 841 (D.C. Cir. 1998)].
Failure to Warn (DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA)
A product may be found defective by failure of the producer to warn adequately of a risk related to the way the product was designed [Webster v. Pacesetter, Inc., 259 F. Supp. 2d 27 (D.D.C. 2003)].
To recover in a failure to warn claim, the plaintiff has to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that: (1) the defendant owed him a duty; (2) the defendant breached that duty; and (3) the breach of duty proximately caused his harm. The threshold question in a failure-to-warn case is whether a duty to warn exists. In District of Columbia that determination turns on whether the manufacturer knew or should have known of a danger sufficiently serious to require a warning. A plaintiff need not show that there was a manufacturing defect in order to recover: a product can be perfectly made and still require directions or warnings on proper use in order to be safe. A manufacturer's failure to warn need not be the sole cause of an injury; rather, a manufacturer may still be held liable even though other causes proximately contributed to the injury [McNeal v. Hi-Lo Powered Scaffolding, Inc., 836 F.2d 637 (D.C. Cir. 1988)].
In the context of a claim that a product manufacturer's inadequate warnings caused injury to a consumer of the product, a plaintiff's burden under implied warranty and strict liability theories is identical [Payne v. Soft Sheen Prods., 486 A.2d 712 (D.C. 1985)].
There is a rebuttable presumption that the user would have read an adequate warning, and that in the absence of evidence rebutting the presumption, a jury may find that the defendant's product was the producing cause of the plaintiff’s injury [Payne v. Soft Sheen Prods., 486 A.2d 712 (D.C. 1985)].
Independent Cause of Action for Evidence Spoliation (DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA)
District of Columbia has recognized a tort for negligent or reckless spoliation against a third party [Holmes v. Amerex Rent-A-Car, 710 A.2d 846 (D.C. 1998)].