Contributory What?

Often referred to as the “one percent” rule, the Contributory Negligence doctrine prohibits you from recovering damages (money) from a crash if a court thinks you are in any way responsible for the crash.

A few examples of what this looks like:

  • You slow down and look, but roll through a four-way stop, then a drunk driver runs the sign and crashes into you.
  • You get doored, and a police officer incorrectly tickets you for riding too close to parked cars.
  • The battery on your blinky tail light dies while you’re riding home from work, and a texting driver veers into the bike lane and crashes into you.

In any of these cases, you may not be able to collect any compensation for your smashed up bike, your broken leg, or the days of work you missed while you were healing.

Only four states (Maryland and Virginia among them) and the District of Columbia retain this outdated legal doctrine.

DC Councilmember David Grosso recently introduced the “Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014” to update DC law to the fairer, more modern Comparative Negligence standard for crashes between drivers and bicyclists or pedestrians.  This means your compensation would be reduced to the extent the you were responsible for the crash, but not eliminated entirely.  Most of the rest of the country has already adopted this more sensible standard.

Councilmembers Mary Cheh and Tommy Wells are also co-introducing the bill. The legislation has been referred to the DC Council Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, which will hold a public hearing on the bill at the end of the month. If you or other bicyclists you know have been hit and had your insurance claim reduced or denied, please consider testifying.

DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Hearing
September 29th, 2014 at 12:30 pm
Wilson Building, Room 500
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20004
View the hearing notice (PDF)
Please call Nicole at 202-724-7808 to sign up to testify.

We are hosting a conference call on Sept. 23rd at 7pm to answer questions about testifying on this issue. Email advocacy@waba.org if you’d like to join the call.

If you don’t have personal experience with this issue, please sign-up now to receive updates and we will let you know when there is an opportunity to take action in support of the legislation.

Learn more about the “Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014” our advocacy campaign page. We will be posting additional information the campaign page in the coming weeks, including an FAQ early next week.

What to Do In the Event of a Crash

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Bicycle crashes are scary, disorienting events. Nobody wants to think about being involved in a crash, but it’s important to know what to do in case of emergency. Hopefully you will never have to experience this first-hand, but you may be able to help out your fellow bicyclists with your level-headed understanding of what to do in the situation.

This Thursday, April 17, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the MLK Library, join WABA and local attorney Bruce Deming for a roundtable presentation on important information bicyclists should know regarding bike crashes. We’ll cover steps to take now that can improve the outcome for you following a crash and how WABA is working to reduce the number of bike crashes through improving street infrastructure, street-level police education, and increasing crash data. Register here.

If you’re unable to attend the seminar, read below the jump for some tools to prevent, prepare for, and deal with an emergency situation:

At the Scene
You’ve been in a crash. Now what?

Try not to panic.

Make sure you are safe to move or stay where you are and wait for paramedics. If there is any doubt, err on the side of caution.

Call the police. Call 911. Make sure the police make a report. If you can’t call, ask someone nearby to call for you. This step is imperative. Without a police report, there is no record of the incident. Even if you don’t think there is any damage, this step cannot be overlooked.

Get contact information for any witnesses. Do not assume the police are doing this for you as they take the report. Make sure you are able to get in touch later with anyone who saw what happened.

Take photos of everything, including the vehicle involved, license plate, your bicycle, any property damage, the scene of the incident, etc.>

Collect the following information:

  • Driver’s Name
  • Driver’s License number
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Make and Model of Car
  • License Plate #
  • Insurance Company
  • Date, Time, Location of Accident

What if the driver flees the scene or doesn’t stop? A driver who is involved in an accident and flees the scene has committed a serious legal offense. Try to get the vehicle license plate number and state issued in.

Get home safely. Remember that backup plan? Now is the time to use it. Don’t attempt to ride a damaged bicycle or ride if you’re hurt.

After the Crash
You’re off the road. You’re home safe. What are the next steps?

Seek medical attention.

Write it down. While the crash is fresh in your memory, write down as many details about the event as possible.

Pick up a copy of the police report.

Take your bicycle to a shop for inspection and repair.

Document all expenses from the crash. Keep a log of any and all expenses incurred due to the crash. Life changes like taking the bus instead of riding your bike to work, damage to your clothes, personal property, bike, stuff in your backpack, time off work, etc. The WABA Crash Tracker App includes an expense tracker for this purpose. Use it.

Complete the WABA Crash Tracker. We use this data to work on both infrastructure and law enforcement changes. Fill out the Crash Tracker form here.

Ways You Can Attempt to Prevent Crashes
Avoid crashes and problems by riding safely.

Take a City Cycling class. Most bicycle crash incidents result from the bicyclist losing control of their bicycle, hitting debris or other hazards, or running into fixed objects, and not with motorists. Learn avoidance maneuvers, practice control drills, and gain skills needed to avoid dangerous situations at one of WABA’s City Cycling Classes.

Download the WABA Crash App. Available for both iPhone and Android users.

Consider your riding style, confidence level, and route. Are there adjustments or improvements you could make to decrease your risk of a crash?

Follow the law. Following the law makes you more predictable. It is also important to your ability to recover damages suffered in a crash. Due to contributory negligence, a bicyclist can get stuck with 100% of his or her medical bills and damages from a crash if even only 1% at fault for the crash–and failure to follow the law is evidence of fault.

At the Scene: Witness Edition
Not involved in the incident, but saw it happen? Here’s what to do:

Stay at the scene.

Call 911.

Give your name and contact information to those involved in the crash and let them know you are a witness.

Offer to help take down the above information (or do it yourself) for the victim.

We hope this overview helps to prepare you for the unlikely event that you are involved in a crash. Please consider joining us tomorrow evening at MLK Library from 6:30-8:30 p.m. for our crash seminar.