Sherwood's Notebook: The Car…No Longer Never Wrong

Bicyclists and pedestrians who are injured on city streets will have to wait longer to come out of the legal shadows.

The D.C. Council was set to vote Tuesday on a bill that would give cyclists and pedestrians more power to sue for damages should they be in a wreck with motorized vehicles. But Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie successfully won enough support among his colleagues to postpone a vote on the bill until July 12, after his move to withdraw the bill was overturned.

Currently, a pedestrian or cyclist cannot claim damages if they are partially at fault for a collision. It’s called “contributory negligence.” If you are a pedestrian standing just off the curb and are hit by a vehicle, you cannot successfully sue, even if the vehicle driver was drunk and speeding. If a cyclist happens to be turning left improperly and is hit by a driver running a red light, the cyclist can’t sue because of contributory negligence.

“If a cyclist or pedestrian is even a little bit at fault,” Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh told NBC4, “they cannot recover against the [automobiles] that really cause the injury. That’s it. They’re out.”

Under the Cheh measure, such cases would be more evenly decided. Plaintiffs (cyclists and pedestrians) would not be barred from seeking damages unless it is clear that the cyclist or pedestrian is the true cause of the wreck/injury.

Greg Billing of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association told NBC4 that the current law “allows the insurance industry to completely deny coverage to an injured person, and we think that should change.” Billing said, “This is a big change. This recognizes that when people who are walking and biking, if they get injured, they should be fairly compensated for their injuries.” He also said 46 states have the more-fair system of assigning blame.

Some representatives of auto insurance companies say the new law could raise insurance premiums for drivers by as much as 23 percent. Wrecks no longer would be slam dunk cases for drivers.


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There are more bicycles and more pedestrians in our rapidly growing city. The supremacy of the automobile and other vehicles has to be more measured with the growing population. Cars are no longer king. Adjusting laws affecting responsibility is just a start in changing city laws to recognize all forms of transportation.

■ Statistical note. The District has about 1,600 incidents of pedestrians or cyclists being injured or killed each year. The new bill redefining contributory negligence still must be passed by the council, signed by the mayor and be passively approved by Congress.

■ Fun. We’ll be heading to the Republican National Convention in mid-July. Beyond the fact that many establishment Republicans are not going (we’re looking at you, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan), there’s fear of massive anti-Donald Trump demonstrations and even disruption of the convention floor.

■ Stamping your feet? Montgomery County Council President Nancy Floreen is trying to upend how labor disputes are settled by the county government.

Under current law, a mediator and arbitrator — often the same person — is empowered to make sweeping decisions about compensation and work rules. The county has lost about 75 percent of recent cases.

Floreen wants to change the system. She has proposed a bill that establishes a three-person panel to review labor disputes with county employees. Unions representing county workers say the proposal is an attempt to “gut” labor unions.

Asked about the union opposition during an appearance on the WAMU Kojo Nnamdi Politics Hour last week, Floreen dismissed the union leaders’ criticism, saying, “Their job is to stamp their feet.”

Not the most conciliatory description to bring about change.

■ Trump and Virginia. Also appearing on the Politics Hour was Prince William County Chairman Corey Stewart, the Virginia state leader of the Trump campaign. Stewart, who also is running for governor next year, says despite Trump’s sometimes controversial remarks, the presumptive nominee has tapped into a real disquiet among American voters.

Stewart supports Trump but is not without a few misgivings and disagreements. For example, Stewart thinks the Trump proposal to ban Muslims temporarily is too sweeping. About 7 percent of Prince William residents are Muslim; Stewart said they are valued members of the county’s communities, and any sweeping ban of Muslims is just not realistic or fair.

■ A kinda final word. The Notebook was pleased to emcee a recent celebration honoring Richard Bradley of the Downtown Business Improvement District. In the late 1990s, Bradley, in his friendly but determined manner, helped create and run the first BID in the city in an area that desperately needed it. The watch words back then? The downtown area was dirty, desolate and dangerous.

Now, it’s the polar opposite. There is life day and night, seven days a week. The Verizon Center hosts 220 events a year. The Downtown BID’s staff of hardy workers patrol the streets picking up trash, directing lost tourists and generally being alert to any mischief they see.

Bradley and Joe Sternlieb, who now runs the Georgetown BID, were early partners in the turnaround that the city enjoys today.

Our congratulations to Bradley, who is officially stepping down from the BID but says, “I’m not going anywhere.” He said he’ll still work on a variety of projects to make the District’s downtown even better than it is.

Maybe he’ll do something about the choking traffic that is becoming more of a threat downtown to the very success that’s causing that traffic.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

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