How Does Contributory Negligence Affect Pedestrian and Bicycle Accidents?

Only a few states, including Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia, follow a doctrine of contributory negligence for accident claims. It bars an accident victim from filing an injury claim if he or she contributed to the accident in any way at all. However, as attorney Paul Cornoni explains in this video, new laws in Washington DC help protect pedestrians and cyclists from loss of fair compensation after an accident with a motor vehicle.

Video Transcription

DC, Maryland and Virginia have this antiquated law called contributory negligence, which defendants try to use in almost every bicyclist case. And what that means is that if the jury finds the defendant is 99 percent at fault, but they find the plaintiff, the bicyclist, was 1 percent at fault, then if the jurors are following that law it’s very draconian. It means that the bicyclist cannot recover. However, what we have done in most of our cases, we’re able to get the jury to look past that and to see that, really, the motorist is at fault. One of the interesting things that’s happened in the District of Columbia last fall, is the City Council passed a new law. It is called the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act. And that has changed the doctrine of contributory negligence for pedestrians and for bicyclists, and to their credit. And so, what now has occurred is that if an automobile accident happens and a bicyclist has been hit or a pedestrian, that no longer is the law, whether they’re 1 percent at fault. They actually, the defendant, would have to prove that the bicyclist or pedestrian was more than 50 percent at fault, was more at fault than the defendant or defendants. So, that is a nice piece of legislation that’s recently passed last fall. For more information, you can go to our website at For a free consultation, you can call us at (202) 753-4272.