The District of Columbia – like Maryland and Virginia – operates under an old and often harsh legal rule called “contributory negligence.” This means that if you are injured by someone else’s negligence, if you bore any responsibility for the incident – even if the wrongdoer was much more at fault than you – then you are not legally entitled to any compensation for your injuries. This can be a particularly harsh result in automobile collision cases.
The doctrine of contributory negligence has been widely criticized for unfairly limiting the rights of injured victims, including those who contribute to their accidents with the slightest percentage of fault. In other states, victims are often protected by a different legal standard under which they can still seek financial compensation even if they are up to 50% responsible for causing an accident.
Fortunately, earlier this year, the D.C. Council put a limit on the doctrine of contributory negligence in cases where a pedestrian or bicyclist is injured. Under the new D.C. Code Section 50-2204.52, a different legal doctrine – often called “comparative negligence” – now applies to such cases.
Under the law, as long as the driver of the motor vehicle was mostly at fault, then the pedestrian or bicyclist who was injured can still recover. To take one example, if (like many people) you cross the street in the middle of the block because it appears safe to do so, but you are injured by a vehicle that was excessively speeding down the roadway, you can now probably still obtain compensation through a lawsuit (even though technically you were supposed to cross in a crosswalk).
We should applaud this new law, but we should also encourage the D.C. Council to put all personal injury cases under the modern comparative negligence rule, not just bicycle accidents and pedestrian accidents – just like 46 other states in our country.
If you or anyone you know has been injured in a motor vehicle collision, you should contact the personal injury attorneys at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., for a free consultation.