By: Allan M. Siegel
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,
contact the personal injury attorneys at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel,
P.C., for a free consultation.