There has been some recent chatter amongst DC attorneys and lobbyist groups concerning DC’s contributory negligence rule. As we have described in previous blog posts, contributory negligence is a legal doctrine that bars injured people from being compensated for their injuries in accidents if they are even 1% negligent. D.C. Council member Mary Cheh recently introduced a bill that would change how these rules affect D.C. cyclists. However, there is a little-known provision in the DC code that already protects cyclists in bike accidents. D.C. Code § 50-1606 says:
Failure to wear a helmet as described in this subchapter shall not be considered as evidence of either negligence per se, contributory negligence, or assumption of the risk in any civil suit arising out of any accident in which a person under 16 years of age is injured. Failure to wear a helmet shall not be admissible as evidence in the trial of any civil action, nor in any way diminish or reduce the damages recoverable in such action.
That is a great protection for cyclists that not many lawyers know about and has not been raised in many instances. A quick LexisNexis search turns up no results for legal opinions citing the statute. If you ever get into a bike accident and are dealing with an insurance company, make sure you are aware that your failure to wear a bike helmet cannot be used against you in the District of Columbia.