Maryland’s General Assembly is once again considering bills dealing with contributory negligence. Contributory negligence is a legal defense favored by businesses and doctors; but, increasingly rejected by more and more states as producing a harsh result. Under contributory negligence, if a plaintiff has contributed in any way to the incident over which he or she is suing, then the case can be thrown out of court.
Although a longstanding defense, many states have moved away from contributory negligence to comparative negligence. Maryland is one of the few states that still uses the legal defense of contributory negligence. It’s been a part of the law in Maryland for almost 150 years. Most states use comparative negligence, where responsibility and damages are allocated between the plaintiff and the defendant. For example, if a plaintiff is found to be 20 percent responsible for an accident, 20 percent of the recovery for damages is deducted from his award.
In this year’s session of the General Assembly, two bills are aimed at contributory negligence. Senate Bill SB 819 would establish that contributory negligence, as it existed under its judicially determined meaning on January 1, 2011, would remain a defense. However, if passed into law, the Act would be contingent on any action taken by the Court of Appeals of Maryland.
Maryland’s top court heard arguments in a case last fall — Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia, et al. — where a Fulton, Md. assistant soccer coach filed a lawsuit after he was injured swinging from a goal post. He sued, claiming that the association failed to inspect the goal post to make sure that it was properly attached to the ground. A number of organizations, including the American Tort Reform Association and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, filed briefs with the state’s top court supporting the continued use of contributory negligence. They say contributory negligence encourages personal responsibility by ensuring that persons will not recover damages from another party when they have, through their own actions, contributed to their own injury. The Maryland Chamber and groups representing doctors say a shift to comparative negligence would increase lawsuits against businesses.
Efforts to scrap contributory negligence and move to comparative fault have been rejected by the General Assembly in the past.
SB 819 has a companion bill in the House — HB1156. A Senate hearing on its bill has been scheduled for March 19.
House Bill 1182 would create a task force — the Commission to Study Maryland’s Fault Allocation System — to study contributory negligence and joint and several liability. The commission would be required to report its findings and recommendations by December 1, 2013. The House has scheduled a hearing on that bill for March 6.
Baltimore, Maryland-based Belsky, Weinberg & Horowitz has been fighting for clients who have been the victims of negligence for many years. Call us at 410-234-0100 or email us for a free consultation and let us help you.