Yesterday Bruce Deming, a lawyer who's an expert on bicycling issues, reporter Aaron Davis and insurance company VP Eric Goldberg were on the Kojo Nnamdi show to discuss David Grosso's Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act. That bill would end the use of contributory negligence in automobile-bicycle collisions.
Anyway, Davis and Deming do an excellent job of explaining the law and the problems with the current situation. Then they have a couple of callers who point out how they or someone they know were harmed by this doctrine.
And then Goldberg comes in (possible photograph) and starts criticizing the bill. First he says that if drivers have to pay for the damage they do to cyclists, then driving will be more expensive.
We know that in other states that have moved from a comparative to a contributory negligent standard, auto insurance rates have gone up. So this kind of a move could only really have a negative impact on auto insurance costs for district drivers. This is especially a concern because we know that in the district about one in five drivers is currently uninsured. And we certainly don't want to increase that number.
Oh yeah, and right now 20% of drivers are breaking the law every time they get behind the wheel and for every second their driving, and this law might push more drivers to do so, which would be the laws fault. And Goldberg expands on how drivers will have to pay more if they are required to reimburse cyclists whom they maim or kill.
So to the extent that costs get increased for drivers, they also get increased for the district. And of course who pays for that, district taxpayers. This would also be the case for fleet vehicles, businesses that own fleet vehicles who are on the road that are largely self-insured. So it's a business issue as well.
Taxes will go up (which is the bad direction as we all know)! Businesses will go bankrupt! Kittens and puppies will be set adrift on icebergs to perish at sea! If drivers are required to pay the medical bills for the people they negligently crush under their wheels America will start circling the drain. Tis a sad day....
But Deming pretty effectively crushes this one by pointing out that the reason that rates will go up is because drivers have been getting a deal by passing the costs on to their victims.
this is going to result in increasing payouts from the insurance industry to injured people. Well, yes, that really is the point. There are people who are having their claims denied today that don't deserve to have their claims denied due to this very harsh principle of law. Will additional monies be paid to them for, you know, their injuries? Yes, they will, hopefully. Isn't that why we have insurance companies in the first place?
Goldberg briefly tries to argue that if the law in DC is different than in Virginia and Maryland that is somehow a problem
What it means is that when a bicyclist crosses over from, for example, Virginia to D.C., a new set of standards would apply to them.
Right, because the law in Virginia and DC is exactly the same right now. Besides if standardization has a benefit, then the standard is comparative negligence.
He also misrepresents the law, saying that
It's really unclear though why a bicyclist should have a lower standard of care than a pedestrian or a motorist.
They don't have a lower standard of care. They have a lower threshold for recovery in an accident. And if Goldberg wants to get rid of contributory negligence for drivers and pedestrians, that would be swell too. But, of course he doesn't.
But then Goldberg says something completely untrue.
Two years ago the bicyclists got a special law enacted for them which is kind of extraordinary. It provides them in an accident for negligence with the ability to recover attorney fees, which is quite extraordinary under the United States system of law, triple damages -- treble damages and punitive damages, which again is highly unusual in a negligent situation.
And Deming tries to correct him
I wanted to address some points that Mr. Goldberg has made more than once with respect to a law that was passed for cyclists a few years ago. He's made the assertion that cyclists that are involved in accidents can recover attorney's fees and get trouble damages. That's absolutely not true. I'm afraid you're -- you've misunderstood that statute, Mr. Goldberg. The statute that he's referring to was an assault bill. And it applies to the very rare, but quite frightening circumstance where a car actually assaults a cyclist on purpose with the car or jumps out of the car and physically assaults the cyclist. That's an assault bill, not an accident bill. And under the current laws in D.C., you cannot get your attorney's fees awarded. You do not get treble damages in a motor vehicle/bicycle accident case. It's just not the law.
But Goldberg won't have any of it.
Well, I don't believe that I'm misreading the law. An assault under D.C. is the touching by a motorist against a bicyclist. That would constitute an assault. So I think that I'm reading the law correctly,
Really? Any time a motorist touches a bicyclist with their car, that's assault? There are a lot of assaults going un-prosecuted then.
He's also worried that the inability to recover damages is the only thing keeping cyclist from riding like reckless morons who, y'know talk on the phone and eat while they drive.
A concern here though is that if you remove the current standard, one of the things that you may be doing is removing an incentive for the cyclist to exercise due care and drive more responsibly and obey the rules of the road, because if now, you know, if this law were to pass and they were involved in an accident, you know, not only do you have the ability, you know, to make a recovering, but your attorney fees will be taken care of.
I think cyclists are sufficiently motivated to not have their pelvis crushed.
Goldberg also wants mandatory helmet laws.
Well, in fact, in D.C., cyclists -- if you're over the age of 18 -- 16, you're not required to wear a bicycle helmet. That's one example of a regulation that probably ought to be changed if the goal is to improve bicyclists' safety.
Then there are some callers phoning in from what must be 1993, because they are saying that cyclists should not be on the road. One of them might even be driving and eating while he's talking to Kojo. See, that's what the ability to recover damages does to you.
Another writes in
"Montgomery County has spent billions of dollars on building bike paths or lanes and the cyclists do not use them"
Billions? I'm not sure Maryland has spent billions, let alone Montgomery County.
Another wants cyclists to be required to carry insurance. Deming:
Well, you know, as we get an increased number of cyclist on the road, I think that the insurance industry is going to be stepping up to the plate more and more and offering insurance to cyclists. I mean, this is a two-way street. There have to be products out there that are available. Right now there's an increased number of insurance policies available to cyclists, but they're primarily in the area of property damage protection.
I'm not opposed to adult cyclists being required to have bicycling insurance per se. It wouldn't be that expensive frankly.
I am surprised that Deming doesn't know about the Idaho stop (the Wikipedia page for it is fantastic) and that he advocates putting both feet down at stop signs.
It's only to the good for people to come to a complete stop, both feet on the ground, when they come up to a stop.
Kojo knows though, and Goldberg breaks out the old canard about how
the makeup of Idaho and its densest urban areas, I would imagine, probably doesn't come close to the density of downtown Washington. So perhaps the rule is different for a reason.
Which is completely irrelevant, and so no, there is no reason.
So mostly we learned that Bruce Deming knows a lot about the law (but less about the Idaho Stop) and Eric Goldberg is a jort-wearing, truth-stretching, shake-weight using, Nickleback fan who would like to continue not paying the people his customers cripple.