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A New Year, A New Attempt To Change D.C.'s Bike Crash Liability Law

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D.C. Council Member Mary Cheh wants to reinitiate a change to the District's contributory negligence laws.
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D.C. Council Member Mary Cheh wants to reinitiate a change to the District's contributory negligence laws.

With the new year comes another new plan to change a D.C. law that now prevents bike riders and pedestrians from receiving compensation when injured in a traffic crash.

Right now — under what is called “contributory negligence” — if you’re hit by a car while you’re walking or riding a bike you would then suffer another blow from the so-called “knock-out rule.” If you’re deemed even somewhat at fault in the crash, your case to receive compensation would be knocked out.

D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) has been trying to change that, but bills debated in recent years have died after insurance companies expressed their opposition. But now Cheh will try again.

"This bill that I am going to introduce tomorrow simply says that if a cyclist or a pedestrian is involved in an accident with a car, then nothing will prevent the cyclist or the pedestrian from recovering unless their negligence is more than — more than — the automobile driver," Cheh says.

Shane Farthing, who leads the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, says Cheh's proposal could help injured cyclists with relatively small claims.

"A few thousand dollars in damages from an ER trip, an ambulance trip and some bike damage, and it’s not a large enough amount that they are able to secure an attorney to protect their rights, so everything gets done through the insurance company," Farthing says.

The D.C. Insurance Federation apparently supports Cheh’s effort to reach a compromise, but says it's not the right approach.

In a statement sent by the DCIF's executive director, Wayne E. McOwen, the organization says solutions "including potential revisions to the traffic laws and an education initiative aimed at encouraging a more respectful coexistence among cyclists and motorists" are "potentially more effective."

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