Contributory Negligence & Helmets
If you were in a bicycle collision in the DC area and you weren’t wearing a helmet, you may be concerned that contributory negligence is going to stop you from recovering for your injuries. In fact, one of the first questions many people ask after your collision is, “Were you wearing a helmet?” Maybe the motorist, or the insurance company representative, suggested that you might not have been hurt had you been wearing a helmet. Even if the collision wasn’t your fault, you could have stopped yourself from being injured. At least, so the argument goes.
However, lack of helmet use is not to be used as evidence of contributory negligence in court in Virginia, Maryland, or Washington, DC. The reason is that not wearing a helmet in no way contributed to the collision. Put another way, not wearing a helmet does not cause a bicycle collision. Wearing a helmet doesn’t prevent a collision, either. It’s a subtle, but important, point.
This common sense explanation has convinced local lawmakers and judges, too. Bicyclists in DC are protected by DC Code § 50-1606, which states, “Failure to wear a helmet shall not be admissible as evidence in the trial of any civil action, nor in any way diminish or reduce the damages recoverable in such action.” Likewise in Virginia Code § 46.2-906.1, if local ordinances require helmet use for children under 14, a violation of that ordinance “shall not constitute negligence, or assumption of risk, be considered in mitigation of damages of whatever nature, be admissible in evidence, or be the subject of comment by counsel . . . .” If you were involved in a Maryland bike collision, you can look to Rogers v. Frush, 262 A.2d 549, a decision from the Maryland Court of Appeals, where the court concludes that failing to wear a helmet cannot be used to prove contributory negligence, avoidable consequences, or assumption of risk. Therefore, whether you use a helmet should not be used against you in your case.