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On Tuesday, all thirteen members of the D.C. Council upvoted legislation that had caused consternation among them as recently as two weeks ago—when Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie withdrew the bill from consideration.
In the past couple of days, the Council moved the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act onto its consent agenda, which means the body can unanimously approve legislation without debate. Although the bill requires a second vote by the Council before going off to Mayor Muriel Bowser, its provisional green-lighting is a positive development for cycling and pedestrian advocates. They pointed that out for years that D.C.’s current contributory negligence model makes it almost impossible for vulnerable victims of car crashes to gain compensation, since they’re prohibited from doing so if they’re found to be even one percent at fault. Motorist and insurance groups like AAA Mid-Atlantic have opposed the proposal, arguing that it may lead to higher insurance premiums and puts excessive blame on drivers.
In a Tweet, Bowser signaled that she would sign the bill into law when it comes on to her desk after summer recess:
Under the legislation as passed, walkers and bikers who are found to be up to half at fault for a crash can recover up to 100 percent of their losses from medical bills and property damage. As WAMU reported, McDuffie, who chairs the Council’s Committee on the Judiciary, had drafted an amendment prior to the June 28 legislative meeting that would have relied on a “comparative negligence” structure. This would have lowered victims’ potential compensation totals.
To date, D.C. remains only one of a handful of jurisdictions—Virginia and Maryland included—that have contributory negligence models. Following the Council’s without-much-ado vote, advocates hailed what they viewed as progress:
“Changing the law does not change the distribution of risk, but brings the law more in line with our sense of fairness,” said David Cranor, chair of D.C.’s Bicycle Advisory Council, in a statement. “The BAC applauds and supports the District’s goal of creating a safer and more bicycle-friendly community and we believe that this law is a significant step in that direction.”
City Desk has reached out to McDuffie for comment about his reasons for not advancing his amendment and to AAA Mid-Atlantic for its reaction to the vote. We’ll update this post if we hear back. The Council goes on recess this week.