WAMU 88.5 : News

Filed Under:

Cyclists May Have To Wait Until Next Year To Change Contributory Negligence Law

Play associated audio
Under current D.C. law, if a cyclist is even partially responsible for an accident with a driver, they cannot recover costs from insurance companies.
Under current D.C. law, if a cyclist is even partially responsible for an accident with a driver, they cannot recover costs from insurance companies.

Time is running out on an effort to change a D.C. law that prevents pedestrians and bicyclists from being compensated for injuries sustained in traffic crashes.

A D.C. Council committee has postponed until Wednesday a key vote on a bill by Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) that would end what’s called contributory negligence: injured bikers and pedestrians can’t receive any compensation if they're found to be even the slightest bit responsible for the crash. Wells says Wednesday may be the last chance to advance his bill this year.

"I’ve been on the phone with two of the committee members who say, 'Let’s talk further about this,'" Wells says.

To bicyclist Dave Salovesh, you don't need to be a legal scholar to understand what’s wrong with “contributory negligence.”

"There is no chance of recovery. I have to be very defensive. I am more defensive than any driver I know. Because I know the consequences are so much worse on me. The chances of me recovering are so diminished by the current laws," he says.

The current law is set up so that if a bike rider is found to be even the slightest bit at fault in a traffic crash, he or she has little chance of being compensated for injuries. Insurance claims in such cases are routinely denied by the driver's auto insurance company.

"As long as the law is wrong like this those people are denied access to compensation and justice, and we are hoping to get this law changed," says Shane Farthing of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

Changing the law has proven difficult. The bill drawn up by Wells has been opposed by the city's insurance lobby. Wayne McOwen with the District of Columbia Insurance Federation explains that insurers do not want to create another class of protected victims. "Well, we just don't think this legislation is the right way to go, creating a separate class — this vulnerable class — for liability," he says.

Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) opposes the bill in its current form, telling WAMU 88.5 the legislation in its current form compromises crash victims’ ability to be fully compensated if they are injured by more than one person.

If the next round of talks cannot produce a consensus among those who now oppose Wells’ legislation in its current form, the bill may have to be re-introduced in January.


He Died At 32, But A Young Artist Lives On In LA's Underground Museum

When Noah Davis founded the museum, he wanted to bring world-class art to a neighborhood he likened to a food desert, meaning no grocery stores or museums. Davis died a year ago Monday.

The Strange, Twisted Story Behind Seattle's Blackberries

Those tangled brambles are everywhere in the city, the legacy of an eccentric named Luther Burbank whose breeding experiments with crops can still be found on many American dinner plates.
WAMU 88.5

State Taxes, School Budgets And The Quality Of Public Education

Budget cutbacks have made it impossible for many states to finance their public schools. But some have bucked the trend by increasing taxes and earmarking those funds for education. Taxes, spending and the quality of public education.


Surfers And Scientists Team Up To Create The 'Perfect Wave'

Surfers once deemed man-made waves weak and mushy compared to the best that break along the coast. Then engineers and an 11-time world champion surfer showed just how good an artificial wave can be.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.