Legislation Introduced to Limit Defense of Contributory Negligence in Certain Motor Vehicle Negligence Cases

On January 6, 2015, five members of the D.C. Council introduced the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2015 (B21-4), the stated purpose of which is “[t]o limit the application of the doctrine of contributory negligence in cases of collisions between non-motorized users of public highways and motor vehicles.” B21-4, preamble. By way of background, the common law of the District of Columbia currently provides that contributory negligence is a complete defense in most negligence cases, including but not limited to cases involving motor vehicle negligence. The legislation, if enacted, would partially abrogate this common law defense by providing that, “[n]otwithstanding any other District law, the negligence of a pedestrian, bicyclist, or other non-motorized user of a public highway involved in a collision with a motor vehicle shall not bar or reduce the plaintiff’s recovery in any civil action unless: (1) the plaintiff’s negligence is a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury; and (2) the plaintiff’s negligence is greater than the aggregated total amount of negligence of all of the defendants that proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury.” Id. § 3(a). For similar legislation that was considered — but not enacted — during the last Council Period, see the Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014 (B20-884). For a detailed discussion about the defense of contributory negligence in the District of Columbia, see Tort Claims and Defenses in the District of Columbia § 41 (2014).