A proposed bill that would extend the statute of limitations to file civil wrongful death lawsuits in Washington went before the District of Columbia Council's Committee on the Judiciary today with little fanfare.
The Wrongful Death Act of 2012 would change the time limit to file cases from one year to two years. It was introduced by committee Chairman Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and Councilmember Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), both of whom attended this afternoon's hearing.
But they were just about the only ones. The only witness to speak was George Valentine, deputy attorney general for the civil division of the Office of the Attorney General, who expressed the executive branch's support for the legislation. The attorney who first suggested the bill to Barry's office, local solo practitioner Daniel Wemhoff, wasn't in attendance.
Barry, who began the hearing with a moment of silence for recently-deceased local music legend Chuck Brown, expressed his support for the bill. Since Washington is one of only a handful of jurisdictions nationwide to have such a short statute of limitations, he said, it made sense to extend it.
In a previous interview, Wemhoff said he proposed the bill because he was having trouble researching a complicated case within the one-year time constraint. He was representing families of victims killed in a series of fatal shootings in Southeast Washington in March 2010, known as the South Capitol Street murders. He could not immediately be reached this afternoon.
Valentine testified today that the attorney general’s office hadn’t found any legal deficiencies with the proposal. “The executive believes this bill will better align the [District]…with our neighbors,” he said, noting that Maryland and Virginia have longer statutes of limitations.
The council approved emergency and temporary versions of the bill earlier this year, and Mendelson asked Valentine whether he was aware of any uptick in new filings. Valentine said there hadn’t been any noticeable increase in wrongful death cases filed against the city since those measure went into effect, but that he had no way of knowing whether the number of filings overall had gone up.
Mendelson ended the meeting by noting that even without large attendance, it’s important for the council to hold hearings on every piece of proposed legislation. “The fact that there is not a large witness list speaks to the fact that this bill appears to be acceptable to the community,” he said.