Right now, DC has a law that keeps drivers from being held responsible for damages when they harm vulnerable road users. After years of organizing and effort, the DC Council is about to vote on a proposal to change this. You have a chance to speak up.
Traffic collisions happen every day. Sorting out who is responsible for the damages afterwards is a complex job that often involves the police, insurance adjusters, lawyers, and even judges and/or juries. In our region, however, a strict legal standard called “contributory negligence” has made things harsh, but simple: If you are even 1% at fault in a collision, you cannot collect any damages.
If that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. The District, Maryland, and Virginia are among the last holdouts in the US to use this standard. Forty-seven other states have switched to a more common-sense standard called “comparative fault,” where damages are assigned in proportion to blame.
I shared my own personal story in a a recent post about how I came to learn about this obscure legal topic — the hard way, courtesy of a minivan driver, while I was riding my bike. While I am grateful I survived and recovered, I know I’m not alone, and others aren’t as lucky as me with the court system. That’s why myself and others have been advocating since 2014 for the District to adopt the “comparative fault” standard for pedestrians and cyclists who are hit by drivers.
Road users who don’t have insurance adjusters or legal representation to advocate on their behalf are victimized a second time after a collision when their claims for damages are denied because insurers are confident most victims will not have the evidence to prove they are untainted by even 1% of fault.
Various DC Council members have explored legislation to make this change, but have faced stiff opposition from AAA and the insurance industry, who can afford multiple full-time lobbyists. However, patient and persistent advocacy from leaders on the council and community groups like WABA
and All Walks DC have brought us to the brink of victory.
On Monday, the DC Council’s Committee of the Whole scheduled the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2015 for a full Council vote on Tuesday, June 28, 2016.
On top of making it so a person on a bike or on foot who was contributorily negligent in a crash with a motor vehicle would still be able to collect damages if they were less than 50% at fault, the bill makes it clear that it covers people using non-motorized vehicles outside of just bikes (or people on foot), and retains what’s called the “last clear chance” doctrine, which says that even if the person who was hit was contributorily negligent, the person who hit them can still be responsible if they had a clear chance to avoid the collision.
If you care about this issue, now is the most important time to let your councilmember know that you support fairness for pedestrian and bicycle crash victims. You can rest assured that they are hearing from the insurance industry, so let them hear from you too.