But sponsors said yesterday it's unlikely to pass, in large part because of concerns from trial lawyers about its impact on high-dollar cases.
Photo by Rosario Esquivel on Flickr.
"Trial lawyers" bring lawsuits to help people recover money after car crashes, job injuries, employment discrimination, defective products, and more. They are often derided as "ambulance chasers" and the like. But lawsuits when people's rights are violated or negligence has caused harm are also an important force keeping companies from ignoring safety problems or violating the law.
The trial lawyers are also well-organized and active in lobbying, locally through the Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan DC. According to Councilmember Tommy Wells, the TLA has been pushing councilmembers not to move forward with the bill. So has the insurance industry.
I spoke to her to understand why she feels this way.
Why are trial lawyers against the bill?
You might ask, wait a minute. This bill is supposed to help cyclists and pedestrians recover if they are injured. And trial lawyers are the people who bring those lawsuits. So why are they against this?
It's because of a legal doctrine known as "joint and several liability." As Wells explained it, if you're hit by a driver who has no money, but someone else who was negligent in some way (maybe the brakes manufacturer, if the brakes failed, for example), you can also go after that party. And even if most of the fault isn't with them, you could recover all of the medical costs from the deeper-pocketed entity.
The trial lawyers really like this provision, because they are really interested in the big cases that can mean a lot of money, both for their clients and for them. Cheh also said she wants to keep it, and noted that in the 45 states which don't have contributory negligence, often they also don't have joint and several liability.