How Contributory Negligence Punishes Cyclists

In Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Alabama, the legal policy known as contributory negligence blocks cyclists from claiming damages if they're involved in a crash.

2 minute read

July 8, 2016, 11:00 AM PDT

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc

Rainy Biker

Tyler Olson / Shutterstock

When it comes to cyclists sharing the road with cars, "most states abide by a policy of 'comparative fault' in the event of a crash. This standard holds that if a cyclist or pedestrian can claim less than 50 percent of responsibility for a dust-up, they're entitled to either a full insurance payment, or one commensurate with their level of negligence as determined by a jury." 

However, as Eillie Anzilotti writes, "in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, and Washington, D.C., that is not the case. That's because in those locales, the standard of contributory negligence has not been written out of the books, like it has been in the rest of the United States."

An anachronistic policy, contributory negligence states that if the victim is more than 1 percent responsible for an accident or injury, he or she cannot claim a recovery payment. Bruce Deming, a D.C.-area lawyer who often represents injured cyclists, say contributory negligence "originated in England in 1809 as a means to shield employers from having to compensate harmed members of their workforce." It has been repudiated by most U.S. jurists, and only remains on the books in four states and the capital.  

In Washington, a measure to update the policy is having trouble getting through the city council "D.C.'s approach [...] would grant injured people the level of parity they're guaranteed in most of the rest of the country, and it shows the potential for contributory negligence to be struck down on a granular level in a way that the four other states could emulate." 

Thursday, June 30, 2016 in CityLab

Aerial view of snowy single-family homes in suburban Long Island, New York

New York Governor Advances Housing Plan Amid Stiff Suburban Opposition

Governor Kathy Hochul’s ambitious proposal to create more housing has once again run into a brick wall of opposition in New York’s enormous suburbs, especially on Long Island. This year, however, the wall may have some cracks.

March 20, 2023 - Mark H. McNulty

Empty parking garage at night with yellow lines marking spots and fluorescent lighting

Rethinking the Role of Parking in the American City

In cities big and small, the tide is turning against sprawling parking lots, car-centric development, and minimum parking mandates.

March 16, 2023 - The New York Times

A futuristic version of New York City, with plants growing neatly on top of modern skycrapers.

Friday Eye Candy: 20 AI-Generated Cityscapes

AI-generated images are creating new landscapes and cityscapes, capable of inspiring awe or fear.

March 17, 2023 - Chris Steins via Medium

"For Rent" sign in yard of red building

Rent Increases Highest for Lowest-Income Households

Renters at the lower end of the spectrum see no relief in sight as rent hikes remain stubbornly high.

1 hour ago - Marketplace

Rendering of Baylor Scott & White Health Administrative Center in Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

A Dallas Architect Designs Statement Buildings With a Purpose

The Dallas Morning News’ architecture critic profiles one of the city’s most important current architects.

3 hours ago - The Dallas Morning News

A mountain range at sunset appears in the background of this photo, with cacti in the foreground.

Biden Designates a New National Monument in West Texas

The Castner Range National Monument in West Texas is the second of two new national monuments announced by President Joe Biden this week.

5 hours ago - The White House

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

HUD’s 2023 Innovative Housing Showcase

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.