Washington, DC

By a D.C. Injury Attorney with Price Benowitz LLP

In any personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit, one of the primary issues is whether the plaintiff had any responsibility to try and avoid injury or death. Did the plaintiff exercise proper care? Did they act in a manner that led to their injury or death?

These issues, often described as “contributory negligence”, are used by defendants in civil suits to try and shift some or all of the liability for the injury or death back to the plaintiff, thereby avoiding some or all of the responsibility.

In any situation where someone suffers an injury or dies, a certain amount of second guessing is unavoidable and many times decisions that led to the outcome can be identified.

Fortunately, the law does not dabble in second-guessing or speculation. It deals with duty and responsibility. Whenever someone suffers an injury or dies, the question is not what could have been done differently, the question is whether the parties met the legal standards in question.

In the case of James Truesdale, who fell to his death from scaffolding at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. while setting up for a Foo Fighters concert, these issues of negligence, duty and contributory negligence all come into play.

Mr. Truesdale’s daughter is seeking to hold his employers responsible for not providing the proper safety and construction equipment to her father, thereby causing his fall to result in death. His employers are seeking to show that Mr. Truesdale’s actions themselves led to his death and that the safety and construction equipment had nothing to do with it.

It will be up to the jury, after hearing all the evidence, to decide who was ultimately responsible. The District of Columbia is a pure contributory negligence jurisdiction, which means that if the plaintiff was even a little bit at fault in their injury or death, the defendant can avoid all liability.

If this seems harsh, it is because most jurisdictions do not recognize this form of contributory negligence. Most jurisdictions recognize comparative negligence, which takes into account the degree to which someone is responsible for their injuries and reduces any compensation accordingly.

“The District’s rules on contributory negligence are antiquated and very defendant-friendly,” said wrongful death attorney Maxwell Paderewski. “Any time a case can be filed in another jurisdiction with more plaintiff-friendly laws, it should be considered. Sometimes, however, a case cannot be moved, and the Plaintiff must be ready to defend any and all contributory negligence claims.”

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