Maryland is one of a small number of jurisdictions that continues to allow contributory negligence, not comparative negligence, as a legal defense. This legal defense favors defendants, not injury victims. Under the contributory negligence standard, the injured victim recovers nothing if he or she was even slightly at fault in an accident.
Unfortunately, this outdated all-or-nothing rule can lead to very harsh results. If a catastrophically injured victim is even 1% at fault, Maryland’s civil justice system will sometimes bar the victim from recovering any compensation.
Contributory negligence upheld in Maryland
In July 2013, the Court of Appeals of Maryland upheld this 166-year-old rule. The case was indicative of the harsh results caused by the contributory negligence standard. In James Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia, a volunteer soccer coach suffered multiple severe facial injuries after an unmoored metal soccer goal crashed down, crushing his face. According to the court, the 20-year-old coach’s playful grabbing of the goal’s crossbar made him partly at fault for his injuries and he was barred any compensation.
In his dissent, Judge Glenn T. Harrell, Jr. (joined by now-former Chief Judge Robert M. Bell) wrote that paleontologists and geologists were wrong to inform us that dinosaurs were wiped out in the Cretaceous period.
“A dinosaur roams yet the landscape of Maryland (and Virginia, Alabama, North Carolina and the District of Columbia), feeding on the claims of persons injured by the negligence of another, but who contributed proximately in some way to the occasion of his or her injuries, however slight their culpability,” Judge Harrell dryly wrote. “The name of that dinosaur is the doctrine of contributory negligence.”
Unlike Maryland, the vast majority of states employ the comparative negligence rule. Under this fairer standard, damages are reduced in proportion to the amount the plaintiff was at fault. For example, in a case where an injured victim’s damages were assessed to be worth $2 million, but the jury found the plaintiff to be 10% at fault, the final award would be $1.8 million. Under the comparative negligence standard, injured victims are fairly compensated for injuries for which they were not at fault.
How the doctrine of contributory negligence will affect your injury claim in Maryland can be a complicated question. Answering this question will depend on the particular facts and circumstances surrounding your case.
Overcoming a contributory negligence defense requires a skilled lawyer who is well versed in this area of Maryland tort law. Fortunately, the experienced and knowledgeable injury lawyers of The Cochran Firm, D.C. are understand the law, regulations, and cases that govern contributory negligence in Maryland. We can analyze your case and determine whether a contributory negligence defense may potentially impact your injury lawsuit. Contact us today for a free no-obligation case evaluation.