Comparative Negligence in the District of Columbia

In the District of Columbia, you cannot recover damages from a car accident if you are found to be even slightly at fault.
Written by Samuel Todd
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
background
The District of Columbia follows the doctrine of pure contributory negligence, which means that you cannot recover damages in a car accident where you are found to be even slightly at fault.
Imagine that you’re driving through an intersection, going 10 mph over the limit, when another car barrels through a red light and slams the side of your car. In most states, you could recover partial damages based on your share of the blame (so, if you were found to be 20% responsible for speeding, you could recover 80% damages). 
In D.C., though, you won’t be able to recover any damages, even though you were only slightly at fault.
Each state has its own doctrine of comparative negligence, so it’s crucial that you understand the law where you live. That’s why
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What is comparative negligence?

Generally speaking, comparative negligence is a legal doctrine that allows for blame to be shared.
Comparative negligence applies to both personal injury lawsuits and insurance claims. To revisit the example above: if you sued the driver for
running a red light
, a judge or jury would decide if you share some blame for the accident and assign damages accordingly. 
If you filed an insurance claim, on the other hand, the insurer would use the doctrine of comparative negligence to determine whether they’re responsible for the damages to you and your vehicle.
MORE: How to file a car insurance claim

Types of comparative negligence:

Each state follows one of three types of comparative negligence: pure comparative negligence, modified comparative negligence, or pure contributory negligence.
  • Pure comparative negligence: Both injured parties can collect damages according to their share of the blame. So, if you were found to be 80% at fault for an accident, you could still collect damages for the 20% that wasn’t your fault.
  • Modified comparative negligence: An injured party can recover damages as long as they were less than 50% at fault (or 51% in some states).
  • Pure contributory negligence: An injured party cannot collect damages if they share any of the blame (even 1%!). Although contributory negligence is considered to be an outdated doctrine because of its unjust outcomes, four states still follow it.
Key Takeaway The District of Columbia follows the doctrine of contributory negligence, so you can only recover damages if you were 0% at fault for a collision.

What is the District of Columbia’s comparative negligence law?

Under District of Columbia law, you cannot recover for an accident if you are found to be even slightly at fault.
Although there are a few exceptions (for example, if you are injured in a workplace or injured while walking on the sidewalk), the doctrine is consistent for car accidents. To recover damages, you’ll have to demonstrate that you were 0% at fault for the crash.

What happens if there are more than two responsible parties?

If you get into an accident with more than one other driver and you were not at fault, you can recover from each or all of the other drivers. They’ll have to work together to pay all of your damages according to the percentage of the blame that they shared.

How is fault decided in a comparative negligence case?

To try to accurately assign blame for a car accident, insurance companies will look through all available evidence and any police reports that were filed. Since proving fault is especially important under the doctrine of contributory negligence, you can help by documenting an accident.
Once you’ve made sure that everybody is safe, make note of things like:
  • The types of vehicles involved
  • The weather conditions and time of day
  • Witness reports (or provide a witness report, if you saw the collision)
  • Photographs of the damage (be sure to photograph the vehicles in their entirety—it’s easy to miss damage at first sight!)
You should also call the police shortly after the accident occurs. Police reports can be crucial when a jury or an insurance company is trying to decide who’s at fault.
MORE: How to file a car accident claim report

How does car insurance work with comparative negligence?

Since the District of Columbia follows contributory negligence, you’ll need to be 0% at fault in order to recover damages.
Contributory negligence is an all-or-nothing rule. Let’s say that you parked your car illegally and popped into the supermarket for a few minutes. While you were buying groceries, a drunk driver, speeding and out of control, hurtled over the curb and struck your vehicle. In D.C., you wouldn’t be able to recover at all, because you were partially at fault for illegally parking your vehicle.
Although the doctrine of contributory negligence can be frustrating, it’s possible to prove that you weren’t at fault in an accident. If there’s a question as to who’s to blame for an accident, you’ll probably want to get in touch with an attorney.

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FAQs

Yes. Since accident history is one of the most important factors for your insurance rate, your rates will jump after an at-fault collision.
Four states—Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia—still use the doctrine of contributory negligence.
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