10 Questions about Contributory Negligence, answered

The Council of the District of Columbia is considering legislation to exempt bicyclists and pedestrians from the contributory negligence standard. Last week, we wrote about the proposed legislation and the upcoming hearing on September 29th. Since then, we’ve received a number of questions about what the proposed law would do. Below, you’ll find our answers for the most common questions we’ve encountered.

But first, here is a reminder about the upcoming hearing:

DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Hearing
September 29th, 2014 at 12:30 pm
Wilson Building, Room 500
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20004
View the hearing notice (PDF)
Please email Nicole Goines or call 202-724-7808 to sign up to testify.

We are hosting a conference call on Sept. 23rd at 7pm to answer questions about testifying on this issue. Email advocacy@waba.org if you’d like to join the call.

What is being proposed in this bill?

The Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014 (bill and legislative history) exempts physically vulnerable roadways users (bicyclists, pedestrians, wheelchair users) from the doctrine of contributory negligence, which holds that no one who is deemed at fault in any way for a crash can recover any damages after a crash.

Under current law, what happens after a crash?

Generally, after a crash between a bicyclist and a motorist, there is an injured bicyclist and an uninjured motorist. So the cyclist often will seek compensation for injuries from the motorist and the motorist’s insurer. If everyone involved agrees that the cyclist behaved perfectly and the driver was completely at fault, the cyclist will be able to recover compensation. Unfortunately, such agreement is rare.  If the cyclist was at fault to any degree, or if the insurer or a police officer believes the cyclist was at fault through misunderstanding or misapplying the law, the cyclist will not be able to recover compensation for injuries suffered in the crash. This is true even if the crash was 1% the cyclist’s fault, 99% the motorist’s fault, and all of the injuries were suffered by the cyclist.

How will this change under the proposed bill?

Crashes between motorists and vulnerable road users will be governed by a form of comparative negligence in which each party is able to recover for the other party’s negligence, but not from his or her own.

For example: a motorist exiting her vehicle at night opens her driver’s side door into the bike lane, striking a cyclist who had no light at night. The motorist’s door is not damaged and the motorist is unharmed, but the cyclist suffers a broken arm from the fall and ends up with $1000 in medical bills.

Under the present contributory negligence standard, the cyclist’s failure to have a light would prevent all recovery of damages. even though the motorist broke the law by opening her door into traffic.

Under the new bill, the decision-maker (whether judge, jury, or insurance adjuster) would have to determine the proportionate fault of the parties and determine the damages accordingly. So, if the decision-maker finds that the unlawful opening of the door into the bike lane without looking was 75% responsible for the injury and the failure to have a light was 25% responsible for the injury, the injured cyclists could recover 75% of her damages, or $750–for the portion that was the motorist’s fault.

Contributory negligence applies to all sorts of situations. Does the proposed law change the standard for all cases?

The proposed law creates an exemption from contributory negligence only for vulnerable road users in crashes with motor vehicles.

Have other states changed their negligence standard?

Forty-five states, and the federal court system have adopted comparative negligence as a basis for apportioning fault between parties in tort suits.

How many states still retain the contributory negligence standard?

Currently, just four states (including both Maryland and Virginia) and the District of Columbia continue to use contributory negligence as a bar to recovery and access to courts.

Is there any precedent in current law for an exemption such as the one being proposed?

Yes, current District of Columbia law extends additional legal protection of comparative negligence to railroad workers.

If I’m following traffic laws to the best of my abilities and I am involved in a crash, could I still have my medical bills and damages reduced or totally denied?

Yes. Poor descriptions in accident reports, wrongly issued tickets, and misunderstandings or misapplication of bicycling laws can result in insurance companies denying claims for medical expenses.

Who benefits from this bill becoming law?

Vulnerable road users and motorists alike benefit from the equitable distribution of damages resulting from a collision. Comparative negligence facilitates the recovery of medical expenses or repair costs without long and costly litigation or arbitration. The apportionment of damages creates a limit on the amount of damages which can be recovered. The amount of recovery is ascertainable by looking at the extent of the damage and the percentage of each party’s fault. This is more predictable than jury awards and less harsh than the all or nothing system under contributory negligence.

So who loses if this bill becomes law?

Insurance companies, who presently are not required to pay for the negligence of their insured if the other party is negligent (to any degree). Contributory negligence is not an economically efficient or fair method for determining compensation after crashes because it leaves injured parties who were not primarily responsible for their injuries uncompensated and allows the insurers of the primarily negligent party to avoid compensating the injured.

 

If you have further questions about this proposed legislation and its effects, please email advocacy@waba.org

 

Contributory What?

Often referred to as the “one percent” rule, the Contributory Negligence doctrine prohibits you from recovering damages (money) from a crash if a court thinks you are in any way responsible for the crash.

A few examples of what this looks like:

  • You slow down and look, but roll through a four-way stop, then a drunk driver runs the sign and crashes into you.
  • You get doored, and a police officer incorrectly tickets you for riding too close to parked cars.
  • The battery on your blinky tail light dies while you’re riding home from work, and a texting driver veers into the bike lane and crashes into you.

In any of these cases, you may not be able to collect any compensation for your smashed up bike, your broken leg, or the days of work you missed while you were healing.

Only four states (Maryland and Virginia among them) and the District of Columbia retain this outdated legal doctrine.

DC Councilmember David Grosso recently introduced the “Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014″ to update DC law to the fairer, more modern Comparative Negligence standard for crashes between drivers and bicyclists or pedestrians.  This means your compensation would be reduced to the extent the you were responsible for the crash, but not eliminated entirely.  Most of the rest of the country has already adopted this more sensible standard.

Councilmembers Mary Cheh and Tommy Wells are also co-introducing the bill. The legislation has been referred to the DC Council Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, which will hold a public hearing on the bill at the end of the month. If you or other bicyclists you know have been hit and had your insurance claim reduced or denied, please consider testifying.

DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Hearing
September 29th, 2014 at 12:30 pm
Wilson Building, Room 500
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20004
View the hearing notice (PDF)
Please call Nicole at 202-724-7808 to sign up to testify.

We are hosting a conference call on Sept. 23rd at 7pm to answer questions about testifying on this issue. Email advocacy@waba.org if you’d like to join the call.

If you don’t have personal experience with this issue, please sign-up now to receive updates and we will let you know when there is an opportunity to take action in support of the legislation.

Learn more about the “Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014″ our advocacy campaign page. We will be posting additional information the campaign page in the coming weeks, including an FAQ early next week.

NPS Begins Arlington Memorial Circle Planning

memorial-circle

Navigating the Arlington Memorial Circle is a major obstacle for area bicyclists. The Mount Vernon Trail, Route 110 Trail and Arlington Memorial Bridge (the direct connection to the National Mall) converge at the circle. Trail users are forced to dash across high speed traffic at grade to cross the many highways, parkways and the traffic circle. There were a number of serious crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists in 2010 and 2011, leading NPS to make some short-term safety fixes to trail crossing.

Now, the George Washington Memorial Parkway is starting a Transportation Plan and Environmental Assessment to study the long-term and major fixes need to vastly improve safety and the park experience for bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers. The planning process will take almost two years to complete with a final decision document not expected until the summer of 2016.

There are a number of opportunities in September to learn more about the planning process. National Park Service is also accepting comments until September 30th during this initial phase. Visit the National Park Service Park Planning website to learn more about how to get involved.

Hey. Come ride with us!

Take on the fall with WABA’s education ride series!

When it comes to learning about biking, nothing beats real-world experience, so we’re embarking on a series of four rides — each covering a different topic or theme that will help you get around the city.

Our rides are certain to be a good time, but they’re also a safe space to practice riding with people who live and breathe (and teach) this stuff every day. Come to tour DC, come to ride, come to ask any of your deepest, darkest, secret-est bike questions, and come to have fun.

Still not sure? Did we mention that each ride will end at one of DC’s premier taco establishments?

Click on a ride below to register — advance registration costs 10 bucks a person, but you can join us for free on the day of, providing we still have space. Bring a bike, wear your helmet, and read the fine print here.

ch-ch-ch-changes

First up, we have our Ch-ch-ch-changes Ride on Wednesday, Sept. 17th! This ride is all about preparing for what comes next when you’re on your bike. We’ll be riding from trails to roads, from bike lanes to open lanes, and from Northeast to Northwest, all while summer changes to fall around us. Get ready to reinvent yourself and change the way you ride!

Starts at 6:30 p.m. @ M Street NE, between 1st Street NE and 2nd Street NE, in front of the NoMa Metro station

Ends at 8:00 p.m. @ Taqueria Nacional (14th and T Street NW)

Every other Wednesday, we’ll be setting off to explore riding in DC. And these rides are just the beginning. Next year, we’ll have a whole new series!

Check ‘em out:

On Wednesday, October 1st:

gotta get up to get down

And on Wednesday, October 15th:

bike lane blitz

And finally, on Wednesday, October 29th:

round round get around

 

DDOT Proposes Bike Ban Wherever Streetcars Operate

“Bike Prohibited” could be the next version of this sign. Photo source: mvjantzen

DDOT’s proposed streetcar regulations, released last week, prohibit “riding a bicycle within a streetcar guideway, except to cross the street.” On H St Northeast, that guideway is the entire street, effective banning biking on this popular corridor. This is a problem.

For years, WABA and others have raised concerns about the interaction of streetcars and bicycles and suggested a range of both equipment and communication best practices to improve the situation. Rather than seriously pursing these solutions, DDOT is proposing to ban bikes.

Tell DDOT Not to Ban Bikes

Streetcar tracks can pose a legitimate hazard to bicyclists, but banning bikes is not an acceptable solution. Please contact DDOT immediately, and demand that this bike ban be removed from the regulations before they are made final.

This restriction is not just a bad idea, it contradicts DDOT’s own Complete Streets Policy, which explicitly requires:

“All transportation and other public space projects shall accommodate and balance the choice, safety, and convenience of all users of the transportation system including pedestrians, users with disabilities, bicyclists, transit users, motorized vehicles and freight carriers, and users with unique situations that limit their ability to use specific motorized or non-motorized modes to ensure that all users, especially the most vulnerable can travel safely, conveniently and efficiently within the right of way.”

Bicycles and streetcars share space in cities across the world. There are a variety of technical and design solutions to this problem. It is past time for DDOT to commit to learning about and using these sorts of solutions rather than banning an entire mode of transportation from the road.

Let’s Extend the 15th St NW Protected Bike Lane to Constitution Ave

This guest post is written by Cheryl Hawkins, a WABA Member from Washington, DC. Have an advocacy issue you’d like to write about for our blog? Contact us at advocacy@waba.org.

During my daily commute from Takoma neighborhood to Crystal City I think I ride on every form of bicycle infrastructure – shared streets, bike lanes, and off-street paths. I also have the privilege to ride along nearly the entire length of the 15th St. NW protected bike lane (also known as a cycle track) and I absolutely adore it. I would say many other cyclists agree, since the protected bike lane is usually filled with long lines of cyclists on my evening commute home. I recently heard someone from out-of-town who was riding in the bike lane comment that she had “never been in a bicycle traffic jam before.”

The reasons the protected bike lane is popular are obvious – separation from automobile lanes means a much safer and more comfortable ride. According to DDOT counts, between 300-400 people travel the lanes during the morning and evening rush hours. The additional separation created by the white flex-posts and hashed areas make it less likely for a person riding to be injured by a car door than when riding in the bike lanes that run between parked cars and car lanes. The protected bike lane provides a fast, direct route for people riding bikes through the center of the District.

While not perfect, the 15th St. protected bike lanes is far superior to sharrows and standard bike lanes. I also prefer the protected bike lane to narrow, shared-use paths like Mount Vernon trail because the space is dedicated to bike riders. Pedestrians have their own separate space on the wide sidewalk.

I feel incredibly lucky to have the 15th St. protected bike lane as part of my route to work, but where the protected bike lane ends on Pennsylvania Ave. is the absolute worse part of my entire commute. The block of 15th St. between Pennsylvania Ave. and Constitution Ave. is chaotic, and frightening at times, for cyclists traveling in both directions. People riding south along this block in the mornings have to contend with vendors parking their trailers, forcing the cyclists into the left traffic lane while fast moving traffic coming down the hill bears down on them. Cyclists traveling southbound in the evenings have to worry about getting crushed between the enormous tour buses leaving the right lane and the heavy automobile traffic that fills the block. For northbound cyclists, it is confusing how to best connect to the protected bike lane once reaching Pennsylvania because it is on the opposite side of the street. There are many different variations to connect from the northbound lanes into the protected bike lanes and no one does it the same causing confusion for bicyclists and drivers alike.

I have been yelled at by drivers to “get into the bike lane,” and have had some close calls with passing cars that violate the legally required three feet buffer. Sidewalks and paths on National Park Service property are technically shared-used and it is legal for people to ride bikes on them. However, the parallel sidewalk on 15th St. between Pennsylvania Ave. and Constitution Ave. is not Park Service property, but a DC sidewalk and within the Central Business District where sidewalk riding is illegal. For this one block bicyclists are forced to mix with car traffic which confuses, and possibly upsets, drivers when they observe cyclists on the sidewalk one block away.

This one dangerous block demonstrates a difficulty in the developing bicycle infrastructure – the gaps. The gaps are where bike lanes and protected bike lanes end and bicyclists are forced to mix with cars. For drivers the sudden appearance of people on bikes in their lanes is an annoyance, which some respond to with rather risky behavior. For bicyclists the end of a bike lanes can be nerve racking. There may be alternative routes to and from the National Mall from the 15th St protected bike lane to avoid this dangerous spot, but the most direct and convenient route is obvious.

The main opposition to the extension of the 15th St. protected bicycle lane to Constitution Ave. will be from the tour bus operators and the few food and souvenir vendor trailers that currently park on the west side of the street. The parking lane will be repurposed in order to accommodate the protected bike lane extension. The vendor spaces could easily be moved to the other side of 15th St. and the tour buses already have several drop-off/pick-up locations one block over on 14th St. NW. The safety and mobility of daily District bike commuters and bikeshare riders should not be secondary to the convenience of t-shirt vendors.

The protected bike lane was initially installed as a pilot project by DDOT. Without a doubt, the pilot has been a resounding success with many thousands of people rely on it daily. The original pilot plan from 2010 included the one-block extension south but was later scrapped when there was political pushback from vendors. The need for the extension is now abundantly clear. Currently, DDOT has included the extension of the 15th St. protected bike lane to Constitution Ave. in the District’s draft long range transportation plan MoveDC. The project is listed as a Tier 1 project which means it is top priority.

DDOT needs to continue improving the bicycling network to support the rapidly growing number of daily riders with a focus on extending the current network of lanes citywide, and removing any gaps in the routes. DDOT should work quickly to complete the extension of the 15th St. cycle track to Constitution Ave. as soon as possible.

 Sign the petition to extend the 15th St. Protected Bike Lane

 

DC Dept. of Public Works Testing Side Underrun Guards

DPW Side Underrun Guard Pilot

DC DPW is piloting side underrun guards on a few vehicles. Photo credit: DC DPW

The District Department of Public Works (DPW) is piloting a few designs of side underrun guards on a some of their large vehicles. Underrun guards are installed to limit the likelihood a bicyclist or pedestrian would be pulled underneath a vehicle when a crash occurs. DPW is testing a few different prototype designs and will be evaluating them over the coming months. There is no immediate schedule for when all vehicles would be outfitted.

The Bicycle Safety Enhancement Act of 2008 requires the Mayor to “equip all District-owned, heavy-duty vehicles side-underrun guards to prevent bicyclists, other vehicles, or pedestrians from sliding under rear wheels” (full legislation on DC Council website). WABA advocated for this law after the tragic death of Alice Swanson in Dupont Circle who was killed by a turning privately owned truck. The mandate was unfunded for a few years until 2012 at the urging of DC Council. We would like to thank DPW for working through all of the challenges to implement this element of the 2008 law and we would like to express our encouragement for full implementation.

Tiny Steps Toward Reality for Met Branch North

Image Credit: mvjantzen

Preliminary engineering and design of the northern section of the Met Branch Trail between the Fort Totten transfer station to the Tacoma Metro Station (technically called Phase 2) kicked off this month. DDOT provided this juicy news during their update at July meeting of the DC Bicycle Advisory Council (DC-BAC).  The preliminary engineering and design phase will bring the plans to 30% of complete. It’s a small but important step forward. For a sense of where this fits into the whole project, here’s a handy chart:

The engineering firm RK&K is the primary contractor on this project with the Toole Design Group as a subcontractor for trail design. A timeline of when this phase will be complete is not finalized yet.  After this work, the trail design needs to be 100% complete before a construction contract could be awarded and actual trail building to begin. All of these dates are unknown.

This is definite forward progress on the MBT. But, still no answer to Councilmember Mary Cheh famous question: “Will I be alive [when the trail is finished]?

A Day In The Life Of A D.C. Bike Ambassador

All smiles and waves this morning at Florida Ave NW and R St. NW. We delivered two messages to two types of road users: drivers  received, “Good morning, consider bicycling!” and bicyclists, “Hello, thanks for biking responsibly!”

photo (3)

photo 2

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photo 3

 

Bike ambassadors make a tangible impact on the streets of Washington, D.C. Interested in getting involved with the Bike Ambassador program?

Our next Bike Ambassador orientation is tomorrow, July 15th at the WABA office. Click here to learn more or contact Jon Gonzalez, the D.C. Bike Ambassador program coordinator, at jon.gonzalez@waba.org for more details.

Ride to the Washington Post

Bike Ambassador/ Women & Bicycles 2

If you’re free for your lunch break, local bicyclist Mike Forster has organized a bike ride to the Washington Post in response to the Courtland Milloy column. You can read WABA’s full response to the column on our blog.

Click here to view the event page for today’s ride. WABA is not formally officiated with this event, but we recognize the strong reaction to the column at-issue, and wanted to let our supporters know this event is happening.

We’d also like to thank you for being a member and enabling our efforts to push back against those who threaten bicyclist safety. We are only able to be here to stand up for bicyclists because of your financial support and commitment. Click here to join or donate if you haven’t already.