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D.C. eliminates contributory negligence for motor vehicle accidents with non-motorized users.


On October 4, 2016, the District of Columbia’s Mayor, Muriel Bowser, signed into law D.C. Bill B-21.4, which is titled: “The Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2016.”  Prior to the signing of this bill, D.C. recognized that a plaintiff’s contributory negligence completely barred a plaintiff from recovering if the plaintiff was at least minimally at fault (even just 1% at fault).  In addition to D.C., only four states (Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia) still recognize contributory negligence as a complete bar to recovery.

The new bill carved out an exception to the contributory negligence doctrine in D.C.  Specifically, the D.C. bill provides that a comparative fault standard will apply in motor vehicle accidents involving a plaintiff who is a pedestrian, bicyclist or other non-motorized user of a public highway.  Under such a standard, a plaintiff will be barred from recovering when the plaintiff’s negligence is greater than the total amount of negligence of all of the defendants (i.e., greater than 50%).  However, a plaintiff will be able to recover up to 100% of their damages if the plaintiff is found to be up to 50% at fault for the motor vehicle accident.  The doctrine of contributory negligence will continue to apply in issues not concerning motor vehicle accidents with non-motorized users.

The bill also explicitly preserved the last clear chance doctrine.  Under this doctrine, a plaintiff’s negligence is not a bar to recovery if the defendant had the last clear chance to avoid the accident. 

The passed bill reportedly came on the heals of advocacy from organizations like the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA).   The United States Congress now has 30 days to take action on the bill or it will become law. 

Questions about this case can be directed to Ben Peoples, at (202) 904-2362 or cpeoples@tthlaw.com.