District of Columbia Motor Vehicle Accident Laws and Safety Requirements

Unlike the 50 states, the District of Columbia is directly overseen by the federal government, although many of the laws that affect motor vehicle accident lawsuits were passed by the local Council of the District of Columbia rather than the U.S. Congress. Below is a summary of some of the most relevant legislation.

Statute of Limitations: You have three years after a motor vehicle accident to file a lawsuit with the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, regardless of whether your claim involves personal injury, property damage, or both.

Shared Liability: The District of Columbia is a pure contributory negligence jurisdiction. Under this system, a plaintiff will be denied any recovery at all if he was even one percent at fault for the motor vehicle accident that triggered the lawsuit. This is one of the least plaintiff-friendly personal injury laws in the nation.  

Fault/No Fault Rule: The District of Columbia is a “no fault” jurisdiction – the victim of an auto accident must turn to his own “no fault” insurance policy for compensation, rather than seeking compensation through the other party’s liability insurance. The ability to file a lawsuit over a car accident is similarly restricted. Four types of serious injuries or conditions, however, will allow a victim to file a claim against another party’s insurance policy or file a lawsuit.

Minimum Insurance Coverage: D.C. drivers are required to carry “no fault” insurance with coverage of 25/50/10 ($25,000 per injured victim, $50,000 per accident and $10,000 for property damage per accident).

Uninsured/Underinsured Drivers Coverage: D.C. drivers are also required to carry uninsured motorist coverage of at least 25/50/5, with a maximum of $200 deductible.

Types of Damages Available: Full compensatory damages are available. To qualify for punitive damages you must show that the defendant exhibited malice, evil motives, intent to injure, outrageous or grossly fraudulent conduct, or the equivalent. There is no cap on punitive damages.

Product Liability for Defective Vehicles: Strict product liability (liability without fault) is available, subject to two main defenses — assumption of risk and product misuse.

Motorcycle Helmet Laws: All D.C. motorcycle riders are required to wear helmets.

Seat Belt Laws: All occupants under 17 must wear seat belts. The maximum fine for a first offense is $25.

Dram Shop Laws: Licensed alcohol vendors are liable for damages caused by minors and obviously intoxicated guests whom they serve alcohol to. Social hosts do not share this liability.

DUI/DWI Laws: The minimum BAC for a DUI in the District of Columbia is .08% (any detectable amount will support a conviction if the offender is under 21), while a BAC of .15% or higher will support enhanced penalties. First-offense penalties include up to 90 days in jail, a fine of $300 to $1,100, and a driver’s license suspension of up to six months

Distracted Driving (texting while driving, etc.): The District of Columbia completely bans hand-held electronic devices and texting while driving. All cell phone use is prohibited for school bus drivers and drivers using a Learner’s Permit.