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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.
July 8, 2016, 11am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Tyler Olson

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." 

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Published on Thursday, June 30, 2016 in CityLab
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