When a pedestrian or cyclist is hit by a vehicle, the only way that pedestrian or cyclist can collect damages is if the incident was found to be 100 percent the car driver’s fault. If the pedestrian or cyclist is found even 1 percent at fault, they receive nothing to cover medical expenses or lost wages for injuries obtained during the vehicle accident. This is called contributory negligence.
However, D.C. Council met last month to try and change this by considering a bill that would switch from city’s contributory negligence standard to a comparative negligence standard. This standard would determine how the accountability for an accident involving a cyclist and a car would be distributed between the two parties. This would give both pedestrians and cyclists a fighting chance to collect compensation to cover their injuries. Under the proposed system, if a pedestrian is determined to be 5 percent at fault for an accident, the court may decide to reduce his or her damages by 5 percent, but they would still get some compensation to cover hospital bills, lost wages and other losses.
In total, 46 states have given up contributory negligence in favor of comparative negligence when it comes to pedestrian or cyclist accidents. However, the D.C. bill has failed to be adopted in the past because insurance industry advocates are threatening to impose higher insurance premiums. For example, AAA has informed its clients that if this bill passes, some drivers could expect their car insurance to increase by $600 annually.
On the other hand, advocates for pedestrians and cyclists insist the changes this bill would bring to the District is necessary, especially given the cyclist communities have rapidly expanded recently. The number of crashes involving D.C.’s most vulnerable road users has increased in recent years. According to the D.C. Department of transportation, there are an average of 600 pedestrian accidents and 265 bicycle accidents reported in the District each year.
Given that city policies continue to push towards more bicycle-friendly infrastructure in an effort to encourage residents to bike and walk, it is important the city provide a way to help these residents should an accident occur.