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D.C.'s Contributory Negligence Bill Update

D.C.’s Contributory Negligence Bill Update

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Today, the D.C. Council was set to vote on changing D.C.’s contributory negligence law with respect to cyclists and pedestrians. What is contributory negligence you ask? Contributory negligence is a legal doctrine that makes it impossible for an injured person to recover damages in a lawsuit for his or her injuries if he or she was even 1% negligent in causing the accident. Only 5 states, including D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, still use contributory negligence.

Contributory negligence is especially unfair to cyclists and pedestrians. Car-on-car accidents are deadly enough — a pedestrian or cyclist getting hit by a vehicle can have deadly results because there is no bumper or metal frame protecting them. Further, law enforcement officers are not as cognizant of the law regarding pedestrian and cyclists’ rights as they are of the laws governing vehicles. We see that cyclists are often ticketed and issued citations improperly when the vehicle driver was actually at fault in an accident. Cyclists and pedestrians are hit with a double whammy — when they are involved in an accident with a vehicle they are more likely to be blamed and also more likely to be injured.

Unfortunately, today the D.C. Council voted to postpone the vote on the Bike Bill. At first it appeared the vote was going to happen. Then, councilmember Kenyan McDuffie moved to table the Bill, citing concerns over interpretations of the bill. Councilmember Cheh said this was just a delay tactic.

Here is where the confusion is happening: under the Bill, a plaintiff’s recovery can happen two ways: (1) a would-be plaintiff’s recovery can be 100% of their damages if they are less than 50% negligent in causing the accident, or (2) a plaintiff’s recovery can be reduced proportionate to their fault in the accident. (For example, if I get hit on a bike, but a jury finds me 25% responsible for my own injuries, my recovery would be reduced by 25% of my damages). McDuffie states that the Washington Area Bicyclist Association favors the proportionate reduction, while Cheh contends that the organization supports a plaintiff receiving 100% damages as long as he or she was less than 50% at fault.

McDuffie’s motion to postpone the Bill was at first successful. Then, Cheh voted to appeal the postponement, which passed — temporarily. Ultimately, the D.C. Council moved to table the Bill in two votes: one happening on July 12, and the other some time in the fall.

We will be monitoring the Bike Bill and keep you updated. Let us know what you think about the Bike Bill and what YOU think the law should be in D.C.