Contributory negligence is a legal doctrine currently only recognized in five jurisdictions in the entire United States. Unfortunately, DC, Maryland and Virginia are three of them.
In states that recognize contributory negligence, if the injured person bringing the lawsuit was even 1% responsible for her injuries, she will be completely barred from receiving any compensation. This has devastating effects for cyclists injured by negligent drivers because cyclists are frequently blamed unfairly for accidents between cars and bikes. For example, if you get doored by the driver of a parked car, it is almost impossible to recover compensation for your injuries if the police officer tickets you for riding too close to the parked car.
Despite efforts in improving the bicycle infrastructure in DC, Maryland and Virginia, cyclists still face great danger when cycling on local roadways. Even on roads with dedicated bike lanes, there is often confusing signage that makes it unclear how cyclists are supposed to act. Drivers are also uneducated as to cyclists’ rights on roadways.
Compounding the problem, police officers are rarely trained in the basics of bicycling laws. This leads to police officers unfairly citing cyclists in accidents involving vehicles, making it nearly impossible for the cyclist to obtain legal representation in a personal injury case.
Fortunately, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and local council members have taken up the issue of changing D.C.’s contributory negligence law. Under the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2015, a cyclist injured in a crash would still be able to recover against the driver of a vehicle as long as she was less than 50% responsible in causing the accident. The Act also explicitly states that it will not affect the doctrine of joint and several liability, which has been an ongoing concern of many local trial lawyers groups.
The attorneys at Grenier Law Group support efforts to change D.C.’s contributory negligence rule with respect to cyclists, as long as there is no effect on joint and several liability. As experienced bike accident attorneys, and avid cyclists ourselves, we recognize how disparate the treatment of cyclists and drivers of motor vehicles has been.