by Tracy Hadden Loh • September 21, 2016
Since the spring, the DC Council has been flirting with a bill that would end “contributory negligence,” an unjust rule that keeps people who are hit when walking or biking from collecting medical costs from a driver’s insurance. The bill officially passed on Tuesday. Please help us thank the legislators who made it happen.
DC’s “contributory negligence” rule says that if you’re involved in a crash while traveling on foot or bike and even one percent at fault for what happened, you can’t collect any damages. The Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2015 will do away with that rule, allowing people to collect damages as long as they were less than 50% at fault.
An earlier version of this bill came up two years ago, but fell apart at the last minute. The Council was set to vote on this one early in the summer, and while the vote did get delayed for two weeks, it passed its first reading in July. This week’s vote was what’s called the second reading, and the bill passed without debate.
This is very, very important
I had my own run-in with “contrib” when a minivan driver hit me, fracturing my pelvis and spraining my back, while I was riding my bike home from work in 2008. The driver’s insurance denied my claim, saying that I had contributed to the crash. Instead of receiving a settlement proportional to my injuries and experience, I wound up in court.
I was extremely lucky that a pedestrian witnessed the crash and, over a year later, was willing to come to the Rockville District Court to testify on my behalf. I won a $30,000 judgement against the driver, which his insurance company paid. The amount was above and beyond the total of my lost wages and medical bills, which the judge said was to “make me whole” by compensating me for pain and suffering.
While dollars and cents are what the court has to work with, money alone doesn’t make people whole. The months of pain and struggle, the paperwork, the rage I felt when I heard the driver tell the judge that I threw myself in front of his car… well, it’s laughable to suggest that the few thousand dollars left over after my lawyer and my health insurance took their cuts could compensate me for all that.
Justice would be a better compensation. When Mayor Bowser signs this bill into law, I will at last be made whole.
There is a huge discrepancy in how drivers experience the costs of collisions as opposed to people on bike or foot. Doing away with contributory negligence in DC will be a huge step forward towards treating road users more fairly in accident compensation.
We should give credit where credit is due
Mayor Bowser still needs to sign this bill (she has praised it before), and then Congress has to approve it. But for today, let’s make sure to give DC Councilmembers the thanks they deserve for educating themselves on this issue, finding a solution, and carrying it to completion.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank the DC Council for passing this just, fair law that protects the most vulnerable on our roads.
Use #ContributoryNegligence and #fixcontrib to thank your councilmember, in particular @marycheh, the bill’s sponsor, and @CM_McDuffie, the judiciary committee chair. Also use our tweets here below.