By Nikko Bilitza
Councilmember Grosso recently introduced the “Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014.” This bill would make it easier for cyclists to get compensation for damage sustained in accidents with cars, by ending the legal use of contributory negligence in automobile-bicycle collisions. Contributory negligence is a legal defense that argues that the plaintiff in a negligence case cannot receive compensation if they are even one percent responsible for the damage. For example, Driver A is making a left turn and hits Driver B, who was driving over the speed limit through the intersection. Driver B sustains injuries and sues Driver A for negligence but loses because Driver B was driving over the speed limit, which contributed to the injury.
Only four states use contributory negligence, a legal defense that is unfair for traffic cases considering that plaintiffs often have to pay off expensive medical bills or vehicle repair bills. This bill will help cyclists who often get the raw end of the deal in traffic cases due to jurors or police misunderstanding how laws apply to cyclists. According to a study by the League of American Bicyclist, only 12% of fatal cyclist accidents resulted in any form of punishment for the driver or compensation for the family of the victim. These cases spurred Councilmember Grosso to propose legislation switching to a comparative negligence standard, which stipulates that the plaintiff is compensated in proportion to their responsibility for the damage. This change is especially timely, as DDOT and Howard University recently reported a 130% increase in collisions involving cars and cyclists in the District from 2010 to 2012.
We need to make sure that cyclists affected in these accidents will receive fair and proportional compensation. The Councilmember is pushing to move the bill forward when the Council reconvenes after the summer recess on September 15.
*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.