Washington Bike Law has a vision to achieve VISION ZERO: Let’s legislate a presumption of liability for drivers who collide with pedestrians or bicyclists.

Why do we need a presumption of liability?

  • We already have a de facto presumption of non-liability for drivers: the bicyclist “came out of nowhere.”
  • Injured people currently have the burden to prove drivers were negligent to obtain compensation from a driver’s insurance (or even from their own car insurance if a driver is uninsured or underinsured).
  • Many pedestrians and bicyclists lose their memory because of head injuries and can’t meet their burden of proof.
  • Being hit by a car is the most frequent cause of injury for bicyclists. A presumption of liability would motivate those with the most power to prevent collisions to do so.
  • A presumption of liability law would motivate more people to ride simply because of the perception of increased safety. Studies show that more people riding makes riding safer.
  • Infrastructure improvements are helpful, but require money and time; the law can be changed as soon as we have the political will to update our rules of the road to make our streets safer for everyone.
  • Drivers are strictly liable or presumed liable in places where roads are safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, including Belgium, France, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain and Sweden.

Can we actually pass legislation creating a presumption of liability in the USA?

  • Washington already legislated strict liability for dog bites. (RCW 16.08.040)
  • The common law already presumes negligence if a following vehicle collides with the vehicle ahead of it. (WPI 70.04)
  • Legislation could allow defenses for drivers, including intent or recklessness.
  • Legislation could include a presumption against bicyclists who collide with pedestrians.
  • New York legislated a limited presumption of liability for motor vehicle injuries. (NY VTC § 1146.2)

What’s the difference between strict liability and a presumption of liability?

  • Strict liability means a driver is automatically at fault. An injured pedestrian or bicyclist only needs to prove that damages are related to a crash.
  • A presumption of liability means a driver is assumed to be at fault, but can be found less responsible, or even fault-free, with evidence that a pedestrian or bicyclist contributed to a collision.

How can I help achieve Vision Zero?

  • Contact your City and State representatives and ask them to sponsor a presumption of liability law.
  • Ride your bike and help others ride more.
  • Pay attention if you drive and please drive slowly in urban areas.
  • Join Washington Bike Law’s Presumption of Liability Working Group by emailing Bike Ambassador Lauranne Bindel (lauranne@andertonlaw.com) or by calling 206-262-9290.

Bob Anderton spoke about Presumption of Liability Legislation to a receptive crowd at Cascade Bicycle Club‘s Big Ideas Festival in January 2016:

Presumption of Liability.Cascade

Seattle’s King 5 News did a story a few years back on presumption of liability for drivers who collide with pedestrians or bicyclists.

presumptive liability

Watch the video here.

The Washington Defense Trial Lawyers, are apparently concerned about a presumption of liability law, according to a law firm with ties to the organization.

The firm says it “recently received a ‘What do you think?’ query from the Washington Defense Trial Lawyers and a link to a news article quoting Bob Anderton, a Seattle attorney and advocate for bicyclists.”

Note that the motto of the Washington Defense Trial Lawyers (or WDTL) is “Fighting for Justice and Balance in Civil Courts”… because too much justice can be a problem for the insurance companies WDTL lobbies for.

The firm WDTL contacted suggests, “Another possible option involving the legislature and potentially finding favor with the insurance lobby may be mandating PIP coverage at certain levels.”

In other words, instead of legislation that could motivate drivers to avoid collisions with pedestrians and bicyclists, the WDTL firm suggests requiring pedestrians and bicyclist buy no-fault insurance to protect themselves against the inevitability of being run-down by an inattentive driver.  That’s not Vision Zero, that’s zero vision.

The defense firm claims, “In a very over-simplified sense, driver awareness (or lack thereof) combined with bicyclist visibility (or lack thereof) are the real issues and these are not addressed by either party’s respective burden of proof.”

This over-simplified argument against a presumption of liability ignores the motivation to pay attention that would come with updating and clarifying our rules of the road to protect vulnerable pedestrians and bicyclists.

Washington Bike Law’s Bob Anderton has been advocating to make our streets safer for everyone for many years.  Unfortunately, our rules of the road still favor maximizing car speeds over safety.  Here is an article Bob wrote for the King County Bar Bulletin in 2009.

If you have ideas on how to make our streets safer for everyone, let us know.



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