In 2016, the D.C. Council unanimously passed a law that reformed the city’s legal standard for who is at fault in crashes involving a car and a pedestrian or cyclist. Under the previous standard, known as “contributory negligence,” injured walkers and bikers were barred from seeking financial damages if they were found to be even 1 percent responsible for a collision.
In national terms, D.C. was an outlier for the old rule. The new standard allows pedestrians and cyclists to recover up to 100 percent of their losses—from medical charges and property damage, for example—in instances where they are found to be no more than half at fault for a given collision. But it went into effect months before dockless scooters and bikes proliferated across much of the city’s core thanks to a formal pilot program launched in September 2017.
Last week, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, who chairs the legislature’s committee on transportation and the environment, pitched a bill that would include electric scooter and electric bike riders in the revised law. “As the law stands today, the applicable negligence standard in a tortious accident for a cyclist may depend upon whether that cyclist was on a bike with an electric-assist motor or one without such a motor,” Cheh said when proposing the legislation. She continued that the current situation is “not in the spirit of the 2016 bill.”
The new bill, called the “Vulnerable User Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2019,” was co-introduced by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, and At-Large Councilmember David Grosso. Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau as well as Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie co-sponsored it. The legislation is now with the Council’s judiciary committee, which Allen chairs, and could receive a public hearing in the coming weeks. (In D.C., contributory negligence still applies to crashes involving only cars.)