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Back To The Basics: Contributory Negligence & Maryland Car Accidents

Back to the Basics: Contributory Negligence & Maryland Car Accidents

Car accidents are one of the most common ways that Maryland residents may suffer a preventable personal injury. The most dangerous time for community members each day is usually when they are traveling to and from work. Accidents can strike anywhere, from busy city intersections to remote two-lane highways.  While some accidents are relatively straight-forward (i.e. someone runs a red light or drifts into another lane), at other times an accident may have many different causes all at once.

For example, one driver may fail to yield the right of way to another car at an intersection, but the second car may be speeding at the time.  What happens when both drivers in an accident share some responsibility?  How does the law account for those situations?

Contributory Negligence in Maryland

In the civil law in Maryland, these instances are guided by “contributory negligence” rules.  Under the principle of contributory negligence, a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit seeking to hold a defendant accountable for an accident cannot recover if the plaintiff’s own negligence contributed in even the slightest way to his or her injuries.  This negligence acts as an absolute bar to recovery.  In other words, if both drivers contribute to an accident, it is unlikely that either will be able to sue the other for damages–even if one party was significantly more liable than the other.

Maryland is quite unique in that it follows this contributory negligence doctrine instead of the far more common and newer “comparative negligence” doctrine.  Only four other jurisdictions in the entire country (including Virginia and D.C.) follow the older rule. The new comparative negligence rule allows parties to recover for an accident that they contributed to, but reduces any award by the percentage of their own fault.  For example, if both drivers are a fault in an accident, but one driver was 90% responsible and the other was 10% responsible, then the party who was only 10% at fault could still recover.

Many observers believe that the older rule which Maryland follows is outdated and should be replaced by a comparative negligence scheme that better fits with standards of fairness and accountability.  In fact, just this summer, the Maryland Court of Appeals heard a case in which they were asked to reconsider this doctrine.  However, the case, Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia, ended with a 5-2 opinion upholding the old doctrine.  In reaching this decision the court did not indicate that the contributory negligence standard was ideal, but instead argued that any change must come from the legislature.  The opinion declared, ““For this court to change the common law and abrogate the contributory negligence defense in negligence actions, in the face of the General Assembly’s repeated refusal to do so, would be totally inconsistent with the court’s long-standing jurisprudence.”

Maryland Car Accident Attorney

Considering the relatively harsh consequences of our state’s contributory negligence law, it is very important to ensure you protect your rights in the aftermath of an accident.  Our legal team at Gordon Feinblatt has significant experience navigating the complexities of accident cases, including when issues of contributory negligence are involved.  If you have questions after an incident or exposure in the workplace contact our Maryland car accident lawyers today at 1-888-540-2599.