When To Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer

There are many general reasons to hire an injury lawyer after being injured in an accident. We have discussed these previously in our FAQ:

Why Hire A Personal Injury Lawyer


Notwithstanding the above, there may be additional reasons to hire a lawyer if you are injured in a contributory negligence state.



Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C. are among the minority of states that still employ the doctrine of contributory negligence. (The only states which still employ "pure" contributory negligence are Alabama, the District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. Indiana applies pure contributory negligence to malpractice cases only.) Contributory negligence is an archaic construct of common law which applies to plaintiffs or claimants in tort/personal injury claims in the above States. The doctrine basically holds that where a Plaintiff/claimant has through their own negligence contributed to causing their own harm, they should be barred from recovering money for their injuries (damages) from a co-negligent tortfeasor.


The following example will illustrate the point:  Generally, where a driver crosses an intersection negligently (i.e. blows a red light) and is struck and injured by another driver, who was also driving negligently (i.e. under the influence of alcohol), the law of contributory negligence when applied, does not permit the injured party to sue and recover money in a lawsuit from the drunk driver because the injured party in this example contributed to causing the accident by virtue of his own negligence.


This doctrine is largely regarded as unfair by the claimants and injured persons it affects, simply because a victim who is minimally at fault, (1% at fault for example) cannot recover against a person who was 99% at fault. As a result of the inherent unfairness that results when this doctrine is applied, most states in the United States have done away with contributory negligence in favor of more reasonable comparative negligence laws. Additionally, when applied in certain jurisdictions, this law may operate to decrease the potential value of a claim, simply because an insurance company can almost always argue that the plaintiff did something, to contribute to causing his own injuries.


Insurers who do business in Maryland arguably have an advantage here that does not exist for them in the comparative jurisdictions. It is far more difficult for a Plaintiff to prove he essentially was 0% at fault, then say 1% or even 2% at fault and as a result, many cases and claims are routinely denied by insurance companies unfairly on the basis that the Plaintiff was (or might be proven to be) contributorily negligent. Further, this doctrine gives insurers in Maryland additional leverage to deny legitimate claims or otherwise "soften" their offers of settlement based on the possibility that the insurer can raise the contributorily negligence defense at trial.


A good personal injury lawyer, whether practicing in Maryland, Virginia or Washington D.C., will have experience dealing and negotiating with insurance companies in these states, who rely on these contributory negligence doctrines to routinely deny claims or make low-ball offers.


If you are considering making a claim for injury in Maryland, make sure your lawyer has a detailed understanding of these doctrines, in order to be able to properly represent you in a court of law, and among other things, be able to provide you realistic advice as to whether your claim is likely to succeed or fail based on these doctrines.


Robert W. Katz
Bob Katz is Chair of the Personal Injury Group at Gordon Feinblatt, LLC
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