DC looking at proposal for bicyclists, pedestrians to collect damages after crashes with vehicles

- It has been a battle brewing in Washington D.C. for quite a while – bicyclists vs. drivers. This clash has claimed a number of casualties with accidents happening for a number of reasons.

More and more people these days are taking the bike to work while others say it is for exercise. With the state of Metro currently, it has become a good excuse to commute by bike.

But the D.C. Council is at odds over something called “contributory negligence.” Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Alabama are the only places where this still exists and it basically says if you are a bicyclist or pedestrian involved in an accident and you are slightly at fault – even one percent – you are out of luck when it comes to collecting damages. But there is a push to change that. However, opponents say it could cost drivers hundreds of dollars more a year if this changes.

The D.C. Council pushed back on action to reform the city's law, which would allow people not in a car the right to collect compensation in a crash if they are less than 50 percent at fault.

But there is some debate between Councilmembers Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) about this. McDuffie wants to allow compensation to be prorated based upon the percentage of blame. However, Cheh said that is not the intent of the proposal.

Either way, the District's top bike advocacy group said it is about leveling the playing field.

"It becomes a real issue for injured parties to collect any damages and they are often given zero damages to cover broken bikes, medical bills and all the other costs that come with being injured,” said Greg Billing of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

"We have to share the road and sometimes it is very difficult,” said Eric Sokol, who bikes through the city daily. “The biggest obstacle for me and I think a lot of cyclists is the open car door. You just have to be very careful both as a motorist and a cyclist to give people enough room so that if they don’t open that car door, you are not going to be in the way."

"I wish that more people would use helmets when people ride bikes,” said George Edwards. “I don’t see enough helmets, so I'm a little concerned about safety here in Washington D.C. on the bikes."

The proposed plan is being met with opposition by insurance companies along with AAA, which said, "If it is passed, some drivers might have trouble finding affordable car insurance … Personal injury attorneys say the bill will allow them to take more accident-related cases and enable their clients to receive a bigger 'pay day' in the event you are involved in a crash."

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