Contributory negligence is a complete bar to recovery -- that means that if the plaintiff ina lawsuit has contributed in any way to the accident for which he is suing, his case willbe thrown out of court. When a case is filed, defense attorneys scour the case for waysin which the plaintiff could have contributed to the accident. In a move that has alarmedMaryland businesses and groups representing physicians, Maryland's Court of Appealshas decided to hear a case that asks the court to replace contributory negligence withcomparative negligence.
Maryland is one of the few states that still uses the legal defense of contributorynegligence. Contributory negligence is an old defense. It's been a part of the law inMaryland for more than 100 years. Most states use comparative negligence, whereresponsibility and damages are allocated between the plaintiff and the defendant. Forexample, if a plaintiff is found to be 20 percent responsible for an accident, 20 percent ofthe recovery for damages is deducted from his award.
A number of organizations, including the American Tort Reform Association and theMaryland Chamber of Commerce, have filed briefs with Maryland's top court supportingthe continued use of contributory negligence. They say contributory negligenceencourages personal responsibility by ensuring that persons will not recover damagesfrom another party when they have, through their own actions, contributed to theirown injury. The Maryland Chamber and groups representing doctors say a shift tocomparative negligence would increase lawsuits.
The groups warn that such a change, if it occurs, should be a decision of the state'slegislature. Indeed, there have been several bills introduced in the General Assemblythat would have scrapped contributory negligence and replaced it with comparativenegligence; however, none of the bills were made into law.
The Maryland Chamber also reminded the court that the last time the court consideredthe issue - in the 1983 case Harrison v. Montgomery County Board of Education --the state's high court upheld contributory negligence and refused to adopt comparativenegligence, ruling that such a change was a matter for the General Assembly.
The case that led to this controversy is Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia,et al., where a Fulton, Md. assistant soccer coach filed a lawsuit after he was injuredswinging from a goal post. He sued, claiming that the association failed to inspect thegoal post to make sure that it was properly attached to the ground.
Oral arguments are scheduled for Sept. 10, 2012.
Belsky, Weinberg & Horowitz has been fighting for clients who have been the victimsof negligence for many years. Call us at 410-234-0100 or email us for a free consultationand let us help you.