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What is contributory negligence and what does it have to do with Maryland auto accidents?

On Behalf of | Nov 12, 2021 | motor vehicle accidents |

Contributory negligence is a complete bar to recovery — that means that if the plaintiff in a lawsuit has contributed in any way to the accident for which he is suing, the case will be thrown out of court. Some call it a “blame the victim” mentality. As a result, insurance defense attorneys in Ocean City and other Maryland cities scour the case for ways in which the plaintiff could have contributed to the accident.

Maryland is one of the few states that still uses the legal defense of contributory negligence. Virginia and Washington, D.C. also use contributory negligence. It’s an old defense. It’s been a part of the law in Maryland for about 170 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. An Ocean City auto accident lawyer can provide more details.

Many believe it’s time to get rid of contributory negligence. In a 2019 poll, the Daily Record, a business and legal newspaper, found that seven out of 10 of the 117 survey respondents prefer comparative negligence. One of the commenters noted that, with the vast majority of states (46 out of 50) having adopted comparative negligence, a progressive state such as Maryland should also make the move. The commenter also noted that, if a plaintiff is found to be 1% or 2% or 5% responsible for an accident, that slight bit of negligence acts as a complete bar to recovery.

However, some groups support the continued use of contributory negligence. A number of organizations, including the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, have filed briefs with Maryland’s courts over the years supporting the “all or nothing” legal defense. They say it encourages personal responsibility by ensuring that people cannot recover damages from another party when they have contributed to the accident.

The groups have also warned that a change to comparative negligence should not be made via the court system but should be a decision of the Maryland legislature. There have been several bills introduced in Maryland’s General Assembly over the years that would have scrapped contributory negligence and replaced it with comparative negligence. None of those bills have been made into law.

Maryland’s courts have considered the question. In a 2013 lawsuit, Maryland’s top court upheld the use of contributory negligence and refused to adopt comparative negligence, ruling that such a change was a matter for the General Assembly.

In that case, Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia, et al., a Fulton, Md. assistant soccer coach filed a lawsuit after he was injured swinging from a goal post. He sued, claiming that the soccer association failed to inspect the goal post to make sure that it was properly attached to the ground. The assistant coach was not able to collect damages because he was determined to be partly responsible for the accident and that was enough to prevent recovery.

Maronick Law, LLC is open during the pandemic and will continue to meet your Annapolis, Baltimore, Essex, Ocean City, Towson, White Marsh auto accident needs. If you’ve been in a Baltimore motor vehicle accident, you should talk to a car accident attorney. An Ocean City motor vehicle accident lawyer can make sure that you are fully compensated for the expenses you face while recovering.

If you have access to Zoom, we can meet with you remotely. The consultation is free. You can contact Thomas Maronick on his cellphone at 202.288.0167, the law office at 410.881.4022 or via the website.




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