Data from the Governors Highway Safety Association shows the number of pedestrians killed in traffic accidents in the U.S. has surged. Between 2007 and 2016, there was an overall increase of approximately 27%. In 2016, Washington D.C.'s Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act (MVCRA) was signed into law by Mayor Muriel Bowser. Key supporters of the law included council members Mary Cheh and Greg Billing, director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. This enables bicyclists and pedestrians to pursue compensation for up to 100% of losses they incur for medical expenses and property damage when they are deemed no more than 50% at fault in causing the crash with a motor vehicle.
The law expands legal protections “to commuters and brings more equity to the streets.” Greg Billing says the MVCRA will end the “unjust practice of denying claims when a vulnerable road user is partially at-fault." D.C. is now joining a group of 46 states that have similar measures. Cheh was instrumental in gaining support among her colleagues in City Council, which first cleared the measure and sent it to the mayor's desk. She cited recent data that this may assist those among the 1,600 bicyclists and pedestrians involved in crashes annually.
The MVCRA involves the rule of contributory negligence that applies in civil actions among cyclists and pedestrians and those operating motor vehicles. The plaintiff may now pursue a claim as long as their negligence (fault) is less than the total allocation of negligence among the defendants. The prior rules made it difficult for those parties to receive any recovery if they were found to be merely 1% at-fault.
The revised provisions of the D.C. code are summarized as follows.
- A non-motorized user of a public road (i.e. bicyclist or pedestrian) may pursue compensation in accidents with motor vehicles as long as these two factors are true.
- The plaintiff is not determined to be the proximate cause of their injury.
- The plaintiff's total amount of negligence is less than that of the defendant's contribution of negligence.
- The law does not change the doctrines of joint or several liability, which involves the allocated financial liability in cases with multiple defendants.
- The law does not change the “last chance doctrine” (elaborated on below).
- The law does not change protections afforded to cyclists and pedestrians under sections associated with maintaining rights of the physically disabled.
The “last chance” doctrine allows plaintiffs to pursue recovery when the motorist (defendant) had a last chance of avoiding the collision. Sue Erickson, a local bicyclist, was a crash victim caused by a driver who was using their cell phone and struck her as she crossed the street. She spoke in support of this new law and explained that she is now a resident of Portland, Oregon, where she says that “cyclists have quite a few rights.” NBC 4 News Washington reported that AAA and others in the automobile industry are concerned the law may increase car insurance premiums.